Imagine you have an empty glass. With every stressful or challenging moment you encounter throughout the day you add some water to your glass, the amount depending on the level of anger or anxiety that moment caused you. “Now,” says Natasha Freemantle, children’s mental health specialist, “I want you to think about your average day and how many stress triggers we as parents encounter throughout the day; caused by the current state of the country.” These are, to name a few:
- Traffic jam on the way to and from work caused by loadshedding.
- Inability to do your work properly and meet deadlines due to loadshedding.
- Your standard grocery shop bill has gone up again.
- The interest rate goes up again and so do your loan repayments.
- You worry about how to stretch your budget to the end of the month.
- You rush home in traffic, rush to make dinner before loadshedding hits, plus it’s suicide hour and there’s no water in the taps for bath time.
Early evenings are a time when children generally act out. They are tired, they haven’t seen their parents all day and they’ll do anything for some of your attention. However, your tolerance cup is almost full so for you this challenging behaviour tips you over the edge and you ‘flip your lid’ spilling emotions everywhere, all over your child.
We all have times when we aren’t proud of our parenting. We are only human and sometimes our emotions get the better of us. The current state of things has us operating on a high level of anxiety and stress all day, every day. We don’t get a break from it. “This means that our emotions are likely to be getting the better of us more often and our children are getting the worst of our behaviour more regularly.”
Freemantle adds that repeated displays of anger from a parent that are more severe than the expected consequence for the challenging behaviour of a child, means that our child may come to view us as a threat or may make us a source for their own anxiety as they cannot predict our responses to their actions. Prolonged over time this may start to take away from their secure attachment and this is something no child deserves or should have to experience. Attachment theory has shown that the impact of an insecure attachment is lifelong and presents many challenges in future relationships.
The challenges we are experiencing aren’t going away anytime soon so we need to be extra mindful of how we handle the emotions we project onto our children while dealing with a storm on the inside.
Freemantle explains the following ways we can do this:
- In moments of extreme stress, walk away, take a deep breath, and remind yourself they are only children and often their behaviour is age appropriate. Return and set boundaries in a calm manner.
- Practice gratitude. It removes some of the water from your cup so that there is more room for other new stressors. Gratitude has been scientifically proven to improve your frame of mind.
- Take time for self-care. It is not selfish to choose a small part of your day to exercise, practice a hobby or just be quiet. You will be able to give your children and your partner a better version of yourself.
- Many of our current stressors are predictable, for e.g. loadshedding and traffic. Do what you can to make them less difficult to endure. Play soothing sounds in the car and use it as a time to be mindful. Plan easy-cook, budget-friendly meals for the evenings.
“We are all doing the best we can, but we must be mindful of the impact these continuous, stressful times are having on our kids and our relationship with them. Be kind to yourself and know that you won’t always get it right, and when you don’t take a moment to repair it, apologise for your outburst, shower them with love and move forward together.”
For more information visit Natasha Freemantle’s website