Protect Your Children from Your "Stress Virus"

Protect Your Children from Your "Stress Virus"

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Keep your stress to yourself. Don't pass it on to your child. Don't let outside pressures or work-related stress spill over into family relationships.

Men, when compared to women, are more likely to release their stress by dumping it onto their kids and their partners. According to one study, men were more than twice as likely to feel stressed out with children after they had a bad day at work.

This is how it works: when men experience an inordinate amount of work-related stress or outside pressure they tend to come home and clash with their partners, which in turn is likely to spill over onto the children by both parents. Then children become "carriers" stress "virus." If there are two or more children at home, they will likely fight more among themselves.

There is something quite infectious about stressful or aggressive behavior. Siblings tend to fight more after seeing their parents in a heated argument. Direct learning is also involved too. Children learn from parents all the time. If you yell when you are angry, the child is likely to do the same.

During early childhood, children's thinking is highly self-centered. They tend to think that they cause everything. For example, the legendary child psychologist Jean Piaget asked the tiny tots, "What makes the clouds move?" He found young children telling him that they were the ones who made the clouds move. They would answer something to the effect, "Clouds move when I walk."

Because young children think they cause everything that happens around them, they are likely to think that they have done something to cause the fight between parents.

Such is the chain of events when dad comes home already stressed out. It impacts the whole family. How do women react to stress? Do they also dump it on their family?

Although, everyone has heard stories about women violently shaking a baby because he or she wouldn't stop crying, women on the whole are less likely to react in that manner. Research shows, in fact, that women, after a bad day at work are more likely to enjoy interacting with their kids than those whose day has gone well.

Women are biologically programmed to be more protective of their young ones. Therefore, they are more likely to buffer their children from outside stress than to expose them to it.

Something else happens with women. Instead of tensing up further, they tend to relax by turning to their family.

Scientists have been trying to understand the differences between men and women with regard to their stress response. It appears that the differences between male and female post-stress behavior may result from the chemicals released in the body after a stressful event.

Males continue to release testosterone for a length of time after a stressful event, and the presence of family doesn't appear to have a moderating influence. Testosterone is linked to aggressive behaviors.

However, being in the presence of family has a modifying influence on women. After a stressful event, they tend to start releasing another kind of hormone, called "Oxytocin" when they come in contact of their loved ones. Oxytocin is linked with loving, breastfeeding and nurturing behavior.

I chose to highlight some of the differences in the behavior of men and women during and after a stressful event, so we men can be on guard. Research simply shows a general trend. It's not that all men dump their stress upon their spouses and children. A lot of men, just like women, come home and leave the stress of the outside world outside the door. They feel relaxed and rejuvenated as they learn about their child's day at school or of their partner's day at work.

When you come home, it might be wise to take turns to take a brief break from children. Whoever seems to be more stressed out take the break first. If you think you're more likely to yell than talk or, snap rather than answer a question, first take a break. Some experts advise not to open your mouth unless you're confident you can speak with a normal tone and pitch. A vow of silence is not the exclusive prerogative of monks; householders can also take advantage of it from time to time.

Tell the children that you had a bad day at work and let them know they have done nothing to upset you.. It may sound superfluous to you to say it every time when you're upset about something, but, it may stop your child from thinking that he or she is the cause of your being upset.

Do some physical activity with your children like playing, running, jumping, etc. to work off that stress. Physical activity is an effective stress buster.

After your stress is neutralized and the voice tone and pitch have become normal, you're in much better shape to point out to your child what he or she might have done wrong. But, remain calm and objective in your criticism. Sneering, smirking or sarcasm is always off limits. Criticism of a specific behavior rather than of the person, in the product of love; and concern for your child's feelings is always helpful.

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Copyright 2001, Mind Publications 


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