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Parenting 101: Stress management for parents

Practice stress management as a family.

Chronic stress has reached epidemic proportions in families all over America. The sheer number of 5PM-Friday, Facebook sign-offs that detail looming rounds of binge drinking is alarmingly high.

Many parents have the double bonus of long work-hours and attention-seeking children which can easily cause stress and disregulation in even the most Zen grown-up.

During our less-than-perfect moments, physical reactions occur in the body to let us know that we’re veering off course. Blood pressure rises, the brain is flooded with cortisol and adrenaline, the immune system inflames, the digestive system shuts down and a person loses all ability to think, remember, learn and process logically or creatively.

These reactions are a protective mechanism meant to save us from real harm by activating our fight, flight or freeze response. These physical changes are meant to motivate us into action. That action is meant to get the brain back "on-line" so that we can resume our goal of family peace and tranquility. The problem is, acute stress protects and chronic stress destroys.

How can you prevent stress from ruining health and your relationship with your kids?

By practicing stress management with sensory regulation tools.

The neurological system is affected by three things: glucose (food), sensory stimulation (activity/exercise) and oxygen.

Follow these easy steps to calm yourself when emotions are running high:

  1. Actively notice when you are reaching your breaking point. Your body will give you clues that you're about to exit the off-ramp onto Disregulation Blvd. Your heart may start beating fast, you may feel your temperature rise, your chest may tighten or you may feel like you want to bolt for the nearest door.
  2. Oxygen is the most influential regulator of all! Start by breathing - inhale deeply, breathing through your diaphragm (into your belly) and exhaling fully, contracting your abdomen. Repeat until your body begins to relax and your mind returns to a state of well-being and tranquility.
  3. Practice self-empathy. Acknowledge your feelings and fears without judgment. Allow your emotions to funnel up and out of your body. Judgment about what you are feeling only adds to fear and stress. Accept all of your emotions (fear, rage, anger, love, sadness) and feel them fully.
  4. Find a physical/sensory outlet. Exercise, use a punching bag, run, jump rope, wash your face/hands, blow bubbles, suck on a lollipop/popsicle, take a shower, listen to classical music, ring Tibetan bells or a singing bowl, meditate, look at pictures that make you happy - your child as an infant or family photos.
  5. Ask yourself what you really need in the moment. What will happen if you don't get it? Acknowledging your unmet needs is crucial to moving on to the problem-solving phase.

Once your body and brain begin to regulate, you can answer the question of what to do next. What action can you take right now to change your situation?

Lori Petro is a Mom, Children's Advocate and Speaker. She is passionate about transforming our world through conscious parenting compassionate communication, and peaceful conflict resolution.

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  • Kellie Glass RD, LD 5 years ago

    Chronic stress can definitely have negative effects on the body. In fact, stress management is one of the 4 most important components to an overall healthy lifestyle. When we address all the components, we (and our children) have better quality of life. For more information, see my book, "How To Eat Fried Chicken and Be Thin Too" on Amazon or at