If you’ve ever experienced individual or family stress, you’re most certainly not alone. For adults, stress can come from work or finances, and for children, it may be from school or struggling to make friends or changing schools. Although stress starts in the mind and body, it has the power to permeate into our houses and families.
So, if stress is such an internal experience, how can it affect the people around us?
This guide will explain the ways personal stress can impact your family unit, and how you can combat it by connecting with your children, promoting thoughtful communication, spending quality time together, and taking care of you.
What is Family Stress?
All families form their own systems and norms. When one or more family members are stressed, they may act differently in response. This can throw off the family dynamic and cause issues for everyone in the family.1
Common Causes and Triggers
Family stressors can come in different forms. It may be that one family member is experiencing a stressful situation, or that a stressful event is affecting the entire family at once. Relationship struggles, work or school stress, and lack of sleep can all cause family stress.
Other common situations include:
- Having a sick family member
- Financial stress/economic hardship
- Moving to a new home
- Dealing with natural disasters
Finding the time, energy, and emotional space to connect may be the single most difficult thing for stressed families to do. The meaning behind “quality time” is feeling togetherness and shouldn’t be restricted to the amount of time spent together. Even spending 15-20 minutes a day doing a shared activity can have a huge positive impact on feeling connected.
In the instance where a parent is in prison or at a hospital-full time, smaller activities can make a world’s difference. Get inspiration with our Otter resources to help write appreciation notes or guide video calls to build connection.
Fostering Quality Time and Togetherness
If you’re dealing with family stress, remember that it’s normal—and you shouldn’t feel ashamed of feeling stressed. It’s inevitable for most people to encounter family stress at some point. It helps to equip yourself and your family with the tools to face it together in a healthy way.
Scheduled Family Activities
It’s good for a stressed family system to find time to be together and interact in a positive way. Scheduled activities can be a proactive way to ward off stress, or they can be used to engage with family stress in a safe space and encourage social support.
Fun activities that can foster connection include:
- Family dinners
- Game nights
Family activities have been shown to reduce tension.1 They can also offer a buffer for conversations, especially when discussing challenging or emotional topics.
Embracing the Outdoors
Physical health is integrally connected to emotional health and stress levels.2 When your physical needs are not met, it’s more likely that your other needs may be left half-filled as well.
That’s why physical activity and outdoor time can have such positive effects on a stressed family.
Not only can physical activity outdoors reduce stress levels, but it’s also an excellent opportunity to connect with one another. Going on a nature walk together, having a picnic in the park, or exploring the newest shops in the downtown square are all ways to incorporate togetherness, encourage stress management, and enjoy fresh air and nature’s soothing qualities.
Working on a collaborative project can be a fun way to create a deeper sense of togetherness and work toward shared goals during times of stress. This could be anything: a home garden, an art project, or even a collaboratively written story.
If you’re on the hunt for your next collaborative and creative project for you and your kids, try Slumberkins Kinspiration Kits. Designed by therapists and educators, these kits come with everything you need to embark on an emotional exploration and create moments of connection together.
Age-Appropriate Conversations with Children
While it’s necessary to communicate openly with children, there are some things they might not understand yet, depending on their age and developmental stage. Knowing how to talk to kids is extremely important. When it comes to talking about family stress, your communication strategy will differ for toddlers, pre-schoolers, school-aged kids, and teenagers.
Here are some tips to keep your conversations age-appropriate3:
- Use language appropriate to your child’s age and developmental stage
- Express your interest by holding eye contact and nodding along
- Try not to interrupt, but offer prompts when needed
Creating Safe Spaces for Dialogue
No matter your child’s age, having a safe space to express themselves is crucial. Show your child that judgment is not a part of the conversation. Rather, validate their feelings and concerns, and show them you’re listening with plenty of eye contact, especially when they are expressing negative emotions.
Self-Care for Caregivers: You’re Not Alone
We know that as caregivers, you have a lot on your shoulders. And sometimes, to avoid burdening anyone, you try to tuck it inside.
When a caregiver reacts negatively to stress, including withdrawing emotionally, it can teach children bad habits when dealing with their own stress and anxiety.2
This is why self-care is so important, for you and your family. Take care of yourself by:
- Eating enough nutrients and getting enough sleep2
- Engaging in hobbies you enjoy
- Meditation or calming techniques
- Seeking external support from friends and loved ones
Be kind to yourself. Overcoming familial stress can take time and patience. Start small, set realistic expectations for yourself, and meet struggles with compassion.
Foster Family Connection with Slumberkins
The power of communication and togetherness when it comes to family stress cannot be overstated. When families are able to communicate supportively, everyone benefits.
At Slumberkins, it’s our goal to make communication and emotional learning easier and more accessible for caregivers and children alike.
We offer a wealth of resources for families to explore, from guides on stress relief to conflict resolution worksheets. And to make storytime its own learning experience, take home our collection of Kins, books, Snugglers, and more.
- "From Family Stress to Family Strengths." National Ag Safety Database. https://nasdonline.org/1449/d001249/from-family-stress-to-family-strengths.html
- "Managing Stress for a Healthy Family." American Psychological Association. Updared 21 December, 2022. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/managing-healthy-family
- Strasser, Janis et al. "Ideas to Spark Rich Conversation with Your Children!" Naeyc. https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/ideas-spark-rich-conversations-with-children