Teaching kids how to bump into the stress of others

Image: Amos Bar-Zeev

Stress takes on a snowball effect, especially when you’re a parent.

When I get stressed around my daughter (she’s 3, btw, in case you’re new here), I get stressed that I’m stressed. Soon, I’m a giant stressball, red in the face, sweating profusely, and being met with that concerned little look from her that says, “Dad, what’s wrong?”

I was exposed to a lot of stress when I was a kid. I remember nights that I’d be awoken to my dad upstairs in the living room throwing furniture and yelling at the top of his lungs when he was at the end of his rope for coming up with money to pay our bills.

He never physically abused me in any way. But he’d get extremely stressed. And his verbal lashings were nightmarish.

I like to think that I’d never let stress get the best of me like this. But because I’m so cognizant of it, even a little bit of stress seeping into my consciousness sets off my inner alarm. And sometimes I do lash out at her. Like when the shit is hitting the proverbial fan in life and, at the same time, she decides to throw her mac and cheese on the floor, strangle the dog, or color on the wall.

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If you’re a parent, you might be able to relate.

Well, I was struck by an insight lately that’s helped. A ton.

I realized that showing stress and even some anger around Rory isn’t always so unhealthy.

Expressing human stress and emotion around our kids prepares them for bumping into the stress of others.

Please don’t think I’m giving you a pass to be physically or emotionally abusive in any way, shape, or form (we all know where that line is).

But I know that, as much as I’d love to make it happen, Rory won’t be living in a bubble her whole life. I know she’ll be around others who are carrying their own load of stress. And some of them will take it out in her midst. She’ll need to know how to engage with this and to not take it personally. I want her to know that very little of those occurrences have to do with her.

Believe me, I’m no psychologist. I’m just playing with this concept myself. But it’s making a lot of sense.

What’s been important for me is to handle the aftermath in a conscious fashion. I don’t know if she can understand this at her age, but I tell her that sometimes dad gets mad. And sometimes he yells a little (because we have to talk in the third person, for whatever reason). But to please know that most of it is because I’m mad at something else. Not at her.

And then I apologize. And I hug her. And wipe away her tears. And a part of me feels like it’s ruining a pure, little soul. But another part knows that it’s strengthening it too.


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