Stress—an inevitable part of life—can sometimes be all-consuming and even unhealthy if it is prolonged and steps are not taken to manage it, said Dr Daniel Fung, child psychiatrist and head of the Institute of Mental Health and member of Families for Life's Advisory Panel on Parenting. On the other hand, there is a positive side to stress, as it can be the motivation for innovation and help build resilience.
“Most of the time, stress is not unmanageable, but we need to learn to cope with it. In fact, a little stress can be a positive thing as it challenges us to perform. Many of the heights of human achievement are linked to stress,” says Dr Fung.
While you may not always control your circumstances, you can control your response to stressful situations. How can you help reduce your child’s stress and anxiety levels?
1. Practice problem-solving
When faced with a challenging situation, help your child brain-storm to think of solutions, and if the stress becomes overwhelming, one way to cope is to recognise that additional support is needed and to seek help.
“Every child is unique. You can't have a single parenting technique for all of them, as each child has a different temperament and personality,” explains Dr Fung.
2. Strike a balance
Your parenting style can have a direct impact on your child’s behaviour. How you parent can be determined by how high or low you are on parental demandingness and responsiveness, says Dr Fung. Demandingness refers to the extent that the parent controls their children’s behaviour or demands their maturity, while responsiveness refers to the degree parents are accepting and sensitive to their children’s emotional and developmental needs.
A parent who shows too much love and concern without demandingness, would be an indulgent parent. In contrast, a highly demanding parent can be seen as cold, callous, and not very loving. The balance is to be responsive appropriately and demanding appropriately, which has been found to encourage better mental health in children.
3. Manage your own stress
Stress can be contagious, and kids can pick up the stress from adults around them. As a caregiver, it is important to relax and effectively deal with stress by prioritising time to be alone, enjoy a hobby, or exercise. Another approach is to draw on a supportive network of relatives and friends, especially when you feel isolated and overwhelmed.
“It’s just like when you are on a plane, flight attendants will advise you when the cabin loses pressure, to ensure you have on your own oxygen mask before tending to your child. Sometimes, we need to make our needs a priority or we may not be able to help our child,” advises Dr Fung.
4. Parent as a team
When parents help each other out and parent as a team effort, it helps children thrive through stressful times. The positive and interactive relationship between parents, child, and the community of caregivers can help the child build mental resilience.
5. Pursue the 3Rs
Finally, to encourage parents in their parenting journey, Dr Fung suggested thinking about the 3Rs:
- Routine & Rules: Establish routines at home to ensure that the parent has scheduled time to relax, and rules at home within which the family can function.
- Role modelling: Know your role as a parent and be a role model for your child in how you deal with challenges and stress.
- Relationship: Build a strong relationship with your spouse, your child and the wider community around you, so that you can draw strength from one another and find help.
The original content of this interview was taken from a CNA938 Family Ties Conversation. For more parenting tips, visit www.familiesforlife.sg or check out #AskFFL on the Families for Life Facebook page.