I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but one day a couple of years ago I was having a particularly rough go with my little one and retreated to my room for a quick lay down.
I was tired, stressed out and just needed a breather. Moments later, I could hear my 4 year old daughter rummaging through the fridge.
I just assumed she wanted a snack until she came into my room holding my bottle of wine.
“Here, Mama, for you.”
If ever there was a moment my heart exploded for my child, this was it.
She knew what was going on.
Although little ones may not understand stress, they certainly recognize it. And they pay attention to how we respond to it.
Now, I’m not saying that I hit the bottle every time I feel overwhelmed. My daughter knew I was at my wits end and was offering something she knows I enjoy. She was trying to make me feel better.
Children learn so much by imitating our behaviours. If we allow ourselves to give in to anger and outbursts whenever we feel stressed or frustrated, we are essentially teaching our kids to do the same.
How Your Stress Affects Your Kids
Studies have shown that there is a connection between parental stress and issues with children’s behaviors.
We may think our little ones are not yet developed to pick up on such an adult issue such as stress, but these tiny humans are very much capable of sensing our emotions.
They may not understand them, but they are in tune with them.
There are 3 reasons why your stress may be negatively affecting your child:
1. Stress Impacts Our Parenting Style
When we are experiencing high levels of stress, we tend to be less warm with our children. We lose patience very quickly and are more likely to harshly discipline our little ones.
Alternatively, when we are dealing with less stress, we are more likely to adopt a positive parenting style. We are more sensitive to our children’s needs and more understanding of their behaviors.
When we treat our children harshly and coldly, they are more prone to acting out and displaying unwanted behaviors.
2. Children Imitate Our Behaviors
Our kids watch us like hawks and learn how to behave by imitating our behaviors.
Back in my days of being an angry mom, I used to throw things when I was stressed and frustrated. I remember one day my daughter was angry and began to pick up things and throw them.
The funny thing was the way she did it: She threw pillows and gently overturned objects. I could tell just by watching her that she wasn’t simply lashing out because of anger – she was emulating my behavior.
I knew that I couldn’t be expected to hide my feelings and my stress since I wanted my daughter to learn that emotional expression is okay. What I had to teach her was how to manage feelings and express them in healthy ways.
Now I don’t throw things and neither does she.
3. Children Are Sensitive to Our Moods
Our kids are very aware of our emotional states and are sensitive to them too. They will actually mirror our stress, which causes the release of stress hormones in their brains.
Consequently, this does help with the development of empathy.
However, if they are constantly witness to our high levels of stress, it could cause health issues such as anxiety and mood disorders.
The good news out of this is that just as we transmit stress to our children, we also transmit love and care as well.
Why Do Mothers Need a Break?
Why don’t they need a break?
I actually did a Google search on how mothers can take breaks to reduce stress and this headline was one of the suggested questions. I couldn’t resist using it here.
But in all seriousness, mothers experience ridiculously high levels of stress – and most of the time it’s not just one major stressor. High levels of stress are usually a culmination of various stressful situations.
We just don’t have time to deal with them all.
And when we don’t take the time to deal with the stressors or decompress from them, the stress can become toxic.
Sadly, we can’t eliminate stress from our lives but we can change how we react to it and how we deal with it.
We can do this by: A) Giving ourselves permission to takes breaks, and B) Taking breaks.
There is No Shame in Taking a Break
None at all.
Motherhood is a full-time job but there is nothing wrong with throwing your hands up and walking away from time to time.
I know for myself I often feel as if I’m abandoning my child when I need a timeout but it is an important exercise in self-calming that I want my daughter to learn as well.
It’s all in how you communicate this need to your child:
A seething “I can’t stand you right now” can be damaging and hurtful to a child. Simply saying “Mommy needs a break right now” helps to indicate that it is not them you need to get away from, just the situation.
(And you may just get a bottle of wine out of it, too.)
And you deserve to take breaks whenever you damn well please.
You don’t need to wait until tempers explode before taking some time for yourself.
Soaking in the tub while your little one watches a movie is a great way to grab a little escape. Personally, I like to lose myself in my writing for a little bit while my daughter quietly plays.
Finding those little moments where you can feel like yourself again is crucial in maintaining a balance as both a mother and a person.
The more you discover this harmony, the less likely you are going to lose your cool on a consistent basis.
So, Go Ahead. Give Yourself a Timeout!
Set the timer, find your corner and give yourself some space.
Your spirit will thank you and your child will learn the self-care skills necessary to keep your mental health intact.
What is your go to activity when you need a timeout? Let me know in the comments below!