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Managing Stress in Children: Common Challenges in Parenting

Updated: Feb 2

Navigating the Stresses of Growing Up: A Two Way Street

“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.” – L.R Knost. For many children of today, the journey of growing up is often one that hosts a fair share of complexities and challenges. With the ever-evolving landscape of the modern world today, children share a vastly different experience in their formative years compared to that of their parents in the past. Given the novel and changing circumstances they face in navigating the winding crossroads of childhood, parents naturally play a pivotal role in being the light that brightly illuminates the well-trodden path.

As we ourselves embark on a journey to better understand and explore the intricacies of the relationship between parent and child in managing childhood pressures, we are honoured to feature Mrs Jessy Quilindo, an esteemed counsellor affiliated with Thrive Psychology Clinic. Jessy holds a Masters of Counselling from Monash University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Childhood Studies, Guidance and Counselling with Honours. Possessing extensive experience working with both children and their parents in her work, Jessy shares about the influences that parents may have on their child and how to find a compromise to achieve healthy development.

The Two Way Street of Parent & Child

In describing the parent-child relationship, Jessy explains that “it’s a two way street”. Parents and their children share a collaborative and reciprocal relationship in managing the many unique pressures of growing up in today’s society. She shares that between parent and child, “there has to be transparency and vulnerability” as key elements in the relationship to build effective communication and understanding from both parent and child.

Notably, it is important to recognise the direct and indirect influence that parents can have on their child’s ability to cope with and manage stress during their early years, and onto their later development. Parents hold an important, if not the most important, role in supporting their child with managing stress. Their parenting style, in the form of actions and words, can contribute to either alleviating or exacerbating the stress that children feel.

The quality of parent-child relationships, as Jessy puts it, is paramount in building a firm foundation for healthy stress management in children from a young age. Crucial elements of an ideal parent-child relationship involve parental warmth, responsiveness and consistency. An authoritative parenting style would involve, by the parent, the creation of emotional holding and safety wherein the child can explore within safe boundaries. In other words, “prioritising children’s emotional needs”, says Jessy.

From her own parenting experience, Jessy recognises the importance of discovering the unique strengths in children and finding out their personal learning style to help them thrive. To establish a firm base for the relationship between parent and child, parents must learn to acknowledge that their children’s experiences, struggles, and aspirations are unique to their generation. In tandem with acknowledgement, empathy from the parent plays a significant role in fostering a healthier and more supportive environment for the child.

Differences in Perspectives

Jessy identifies the main obstacles behind why today’s parents sometimes struggle to relate to their child due to differences in age, mindset, social fabric, and values. She mentions that parents often approach caring for children from their own perspective, applying the same kind of approach that was successful for them in the past and expecting the same results. We inadvertently “forget that it is a different era and time”, she says, explaining that children of today have greatly different worldviews compared to the past.

Parental success is often being determined based on the children’s success, but this is not what children want. Children treasure relationships, authenticity and acceptance. When children are allowed to manoeuvre in that space, they bloom”.

Parents may tend to apply their own truths and beliefs onto their children unknowingly, and doing so can lead to a form of dissonance that the child experiences.

“Stress is our body fighting the cognitive dissonance, to find a congruence”, according to Jessy.

While the urge to ensure our children are aligned to the values and principles we have grown up with may seem altruistic, it may instead serve the individual need of the parent to project their personal wants onto their child. While some parents may believe that doing so is a form of tough love, “today’s kids don’t get that”, Jessy says. The intergenerational differences between parent and child then, remain a primary reason for potential misunderstandings and exacerbating stress in children. So the question for now is – how can parents bridge the cultural and relationship challenges brought on by the intergenerational gap?

Another contributing factor stemming from parents is the strive for excellence, be it academic excellence or excellence in values and maturity. As mentioned in the previous article on managing stress in children, this remains a key stressor for the children of today. Expectations are frequently high, and as Jessy puts it, “parents expect kids to meet their needs when they say ‘I need you to…’ when it should be the other way around”.

“Parents themselves are in that trap, so they continue this cycle that was imposed on them and push it onto their children. There is a blanket vision that it’s either this or that, usually with no negotiation for the in-between.”

Considering these factors, a willingness to be flexible and accommodating can help parents to ease into acceptance on a continuum rather than on absolutes, paving the way for a two-way street that both parent and child can walk down hand-in-hand. “Kids can do negotiation, but parents don’t have this flexibility to acknowledge and accept this level of balance”, says Jessy.

Resolving the Differences

To address these issues, Jessy discusses some potential directions for parents to take in order to bridge existing generational gaps and achieve a healthy compromise with their child. In her words, “wise parents look for a way to break the intergenerational cycle”, and she suggests that parents try changing their perspective to see the world from the eyes of their child, whilst navigating within their own values simultaneously. Taking small steps to try and understand children and their worldview is already in itself a huge step towards building a stronger parent-child relationship, and lies within the responsibility of the parent.

In resolving the intergenerational differences in values and expectations, Jessy recommends parents to look into what is meaningful for the children to identify the ‘meeting point’ between placing control and authority while still allowing space for the child. “Sometimes we inadvertently create stress because we want to give the best”, she says. Being aware of what values are communicated to children can help parents to adjust and mould their parenting style into one that is ideal for supporting their child. While boundaries are important and should be established, it is necessary to not set them too tightly.

“The parent is like a container, and in this container, the child is bouncing around to learn. Within safe boundaries with sufficient space, it allows the child to bounce against the parent. But, if the container is too tight, the child can’t explore and grow.”

A Guide for Parents

  • Connecting with Your Child: Strategies for Strained Relationships

Addressing the challenge of strained relationships, Jessy provides guidance on reconnecting with children. “Consistency is key,” she emphasises. “Children need to feel secure, and consistency builds trust.” She recommends small, consistent gestures, like a daily check-in, to rebuild a positive connection. More importantly, the desire to connect has to be genuine because children are highly sensitive to hypocrisy and can sense when there is a hidden agenda. Moreover, she advocates for active listening and empathy. “Show genuine interest in their lives. Ask open-ended questions that encourage them to express themselves. Be patient, and let them know you are there to support them.”

  • Navigating the Shifting Roles of Parent and Child Through the Ages

As children transition into adolescence and beyond, the dynamics of the parent-child relationship naturally evolve. Parents find themselves navigating the delicate balance of maintaining the authoritative role while also embracing a more supportive and companionable stance. As the child grows, the parental role expands to include that of a friend—a confidant with whom the young person can share their thoughts, dreams, and struggles. This shift requires parents to be not only providers of guidance but also vulnerable themselves, sharing their experiences and emotions. Creating a space for open communication and mutual vulnerability fosters a sense of trust, allowing the child to feel comfortable expressing their own vulnerabilities. It is through this delicate dance of maintaining authority, embracing friendship, and fostering vulnerability that parents can nurture a strong and enduring bond with their maturing child.

  • A Guide for Busy Parents

“Parents often worry about missing signs of stress in their children, especially when time is limited. It’s crucial to pay attention to physiological responses,” says Jessy. Even in the busiest of times, parents can observe physical cues such as changes in sleep patterns, appetite, or persistent physical complaints. “Tap into your child’s support network,” she suggests. “Reach out to caregivers, teachers, or friends. They can provide valuable insights into your child’s emotional well-being.”

In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it’s crucial to intentionally carve out quality time with our children. Putting away distractions and making a conscious effort to engage in shared activities fosters a deeper connection. Establishing a weekly or bi-weekly routine ensures a consistent and dedicated space for meaningful bonding. Embracing the lighter side of life, finding humour in everyday moments, and discovering shared interests can transform these moments into cherished memories. Importantly, these moments should be free from the pressures of school or grades, allowing for genuine connection and enjoyment.

Immersing ourselves in our children’s worlds, and vice versa, creates an atmosphere of acceptance and empathy. This intentional effort is an investment for the future, as it builds a foundation of trust. When children feel confident in their relationship with their parents, they are more likely to open up and share their stresses. This allows for proactive management at the root, rather than waiting for things to build up and catapult into something bigger later on. Transparency and vulnerability from both sides are key; a parent-child relationship where this is lacking is one that misses out on the profound beauty of mutual understanding.

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