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Keeping calm around children

Advice for parents on recognising and managing stress

Being a mum or dad is the most important role for most people. However, bringing up children can be very stressful.

This page provides some tips from parents and experts to help you recognise and successfully manage those more difficult times.

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Why it's important to recognise stress

Being a mum or dad can be very rewarding but it can also be very challenging. There can be times when, as a parent, you feel your patience has run out. When you are exhausted or stressed you can sometimes make decisions you later regret. Taking out your frustrations on your children is one such consequence.

Recognising when you are becoming stressed allows you to seek help to tackle issues that are worrying you. Taking steps to reduce pressure points or to relieve tensions may improve your capacity to cope. It is useful to recognise the signs that you are close to your limit and avoid a crisis by having some ideas about what you can do to prevent yourself losing control.

Sometimes your children appear to be the trigger of a crisis but more often than not they are just the last straw. For ideas on identifying and dealing with the other stresses in your life look at our leaflet Keeping your cool.

Keeping your cool: advice for parents on managing stress and anger

This booklet describes the triggers that can cause parents to resort to shouting, harsh discipline or severe punishment. It explains the positive choices they can make to help them to control their anger, and influence children’s behaviour without creating bad feelings.

Risks to children if stress is not managed

Tension

You may not realise how much children pick up on tension. They become worried and anxious and sometimes may choose to trigger a situation which relieves the tension rather than live with the uncertainty.

Physical violence

The hormones in your body that are produced in response to stress prepare you for 'flight or fight'. You may find your muscles tense, hitting out, kicking or shouting helps to relieve your tension. But this behaviour can be frightening to a child who is watching, or seriously damaging if a child is the focus of your 'lashing out'.

Emotional trauma

It can be very upsetting to a child to witness a parent becoming very angry or who is losing emotional control. Children often think they are to blame for the outburst and this can damage their own emotional and mental development.


How to manage stress

Some tips from parents to help you stay calm when your children are winding you up:

  • count to 10 and breathe deeply - old-fashioned but it works!
  • remind yourself you are the adult and you are setting an example to your child on how to behave
  • think about what you're about to say - how would you feel if this was said to you?
  • do 'timeout' on yourself - go into another room and think about why you are angry. Is it really because of your child or is there something else upsetting you?
  • phone a friend - someone you can talk to. Sometimes talking things through helps you to see things in a new light
  • go outside for a breath of fresh air
  • plan a comforting treat for yourself. Choose something that makes you feel good such as a quiet cup of tea, a hot bath or meeting up with friends
  • have a laugh! Laughter can help lighten your mood
  • scream into a pillow - in another room to the children. You can let rip in the pillow, it will absorb the noise and this is better than yelling at the children
  • visualise your idea of paradise - think of your favourite place, real or imaginary, and use this to help you calm down.

Where to find more advice


NSPCC: Adults worried about a child can talk to us for advice and support.

Family Lives: Charity providing help and support in all aspects of family life.

YoungMinds: Charity for improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.


Rose's story

Rose dreads the school holidays.

She has one child by her first marriage and two step children and now has two children in her current relationship with Dan. Five children at home is difficult. The children bicker and squabble constantly, no-one ever tidies up and there is rarely any peace.

This year has been particularly difficult. Dan has been made redundant and money is tight. Last week the boys kicked the football through the living room window and Dan's temper exploded. Rose only just managed to stop Dan from hitting out and they were both shocked and worried by their reactions.

Dan went to stay with his mother, but Rose rang the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 for advice. The NSPCC counsellors sent her a copy of the Keeping your cool leaflet and helped her to find local sources of support to help the family safely through the summer.

Keeping your cool: advice for parents on managing stress and anger

This booklet describes the triggers that can cause parents to resort to shouting, harsh discipline or severe punishment. It explains the positive choices they can make to help them to control their anger, and influence children’s behaviour without creating bad feelings.

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