A study was published about how parents and children react to stress, and psychologists call the findings "incredibly relevant" during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stress levels are reportedly elevated since the coronavirus outbreak interrupted multiple aspects of life from physical health, to social connectedness to financial security.
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Should parents hide this stress from their children to protect them from pressures? Research says no.
Sarah Waters, the study’s author, said repressing your stress actually makes you “less available” for your kids.
"There are so many things about COVID-19-related stresses that we may not want to express to our children, such as worries about relatives' health or finances. These results suggest that stifling emotions don't get rid of them — they stay under our skin in the form of changes in our heart and nervous system functioning. And, as most parents know, they can pop out later in the form of irritability, overreacting to our children or yelling," said Dr. Jenny Radesky, a developmental behavioral pediatrician, in an interview with CNN.
To study the effects of stress on parent-child relationships, researchers placed sensors on 107 parents and their 7- to 11-year-old children. The study put parents in situations of stress, such as public speaking, and then they were asked to return to their children and have a conversation.
Half of the parents were told to suppress their feelings of stress; the other half were told not to do so, as a control group.
The results of the conversations were judged not only by researchers (who didn’t know which group was which) but also by physiological tellers of stress from the sensors.
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Not just parents, but children as well, were rated as “less warm” and “less engaged” when suppressing the stress.
“That makes sense for a parent distracted by trying to keep their stress hidden, but the kids very quickly changed their behavior to match the parent,” Waters said.
So, to conclude, Waters advises parents to have open conversations with their kids, even in times of uncertainty.
"Honor your feelings and your child's feelings," she said. "Kids will work their way through it; they're good at it. Giving yourself permission to feel opens up your mind to more and better problem-solving. It's a good thing."
If you don’t stress about your stress, kids will learn this resiliency as well.
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Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com