July 11, 2022

How parental stress impact children and how to lower parent stress at the bedside

Here's the TLDR; Not all parent stress is bad stress. Children who watch their parents cope with manageable stress can learn the skills to do it themselves. There are many ways to help parents cope with stress in the hospital.

Parenting stress is how much pressure you feel when you think you’re not doing enough for your children. If you feel like you’re not able to provide everything your children need, you might feel overwhelmed.

While all parents can relate to feeling stressed at certain times, it’s important to be aware of and ready to support parents whose children are hospitalized, undergoing surgery, have a rare disease, or are facing a health issue of any kind.

What is parent stress?

Parenting stress is how much pressure you feel when you think you’re not doing enough for your children. If you feel like you’re not able to provide everything your children need, you might feel overwhelmed.

While all parents can relate to feeling stressed at certain times, it’s important to be aware of and ready to support parents whose children are hospitalized, undergoing surgery, have a rare disease, or are facing a health issue of any kind.

 In fact, research in the UK on 211 parents whose children were undergoing elective cardiac surgery found that:

  • parents’ perceptions of their children’s level of illness correlated with an objective measure of postoperative morbidity;
  • there were few differences between mothers’ and fathers’ stress or their perceptions of their children’s illness, and
  • parents in more deprived communities and mothers born outside the UK had higher stress levels. (Franck, et. al, 2010)

However, It’s important to remember that all stress isn’t necessarily negative.

Positive Stress

Positive Stress, according to kidshealth.org, is the brief stress kids feel when they face a challenging situation. It can prompt them towards certain actions like getting ready for a test, doing homework, or preparing for a big event. It motivates them to achieve goals or try new things. Kids may experience positive stress before doctor visits, tests, or new experiences.

When parents demonstrate how they handle stressful events with positive coping skills, those same techniques can be shared with their children.

One of the ways I see this in the hospital is when a family is faced with an acute health issue and they begin to ask questions about how to treat it. Rather than allowing negative emotions to take over, they demonstrate calm demeanors and turn into problem solvers.

Parents can help their kids cope with stress by teaching them how to manage their own emotions. Modeling how parents handle stress is an effective way of teaching children about how to deal with stressful situations.

Negative Stress

Kidshealth.org also says that stress or adversity that is too intense, serious, long-lasting, or sudden can overwhelm a child’s ability to cope. Stress can be harmful when parents and kids don’t have a break from stress, or when they lack the support or the coping skills they need. Over time, too much stress can affect parents’ mental and physical health.

Why does parent stress matter?

Stephanie Smith, a licensed clinical psychologist in Erie, CO, was interviewed for an article on webmd.com. She validates what is seen so often in medical facilities across the country.

“Kids can be especially sensitive to their parents’ moods. It doesn’t mean we, as parents, shouldn’t show our emotions — but it does mean that we should be mindful of how we manage them.”

You may not always be calm and happy when you’re with your kids. It’s good for children to learn that stress, sadness, frustration, etc., are normal parts of life. However, what’s most important is that parents model how to find healthy methods to deal with stressful times, even when they’re not at their best.

How to support parents to reduce stress during a child’s health issue:

1. Help parents determine the right questions to ask their doctor.

2. Show how parents can be actively involved at the bedside.

3. Collaborate with parents and include them on important decisions.

4. Ask parents open-ended questions about their child’s previous experience.

5. Help parents research and consolidate resources.

6. Encourage parents to speak up and actively join the care team.

7. Help parents understand the ins- and outs- of the experience.

8. Manage expectations with compassion.

9. Give them breaks, their mental health needs it.

10. Offer community through podcasts, support groups, and mentors.

Where parents can find support:

We Are Brave Together is a nonprofit organization that provides respite, community, and resources for mothers caring for children of any age with disabilities, unique needs, or other medical or mental health challenges. Meet other parents in these free support groups in your region or online.

Source: wearebravetogether.org

Many large children’s hospitals have support groups and mentorship programs for parents. Some of the highly ranked and largest groups are:

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia hosts a wide range of family support groups. These groups welcome new families and are available to provide comfort and solace to parents and others who are coping with a child’s chronic medical condition, illness or injury.

Source: chop.edu

Patients and Families Pacientes y Familias Visitations, Screening and Testing Plan Your Visit Your Health Care Team Family Centered Care Patient Safety Billing and Insurance Language Assistance Services Education Resources Request Medical Records Research Study Participants Support Groups Camps Legal Help for Patient Families Out of concern for our patients, families and staff, all support group meetings that are scheduled within the next 30 days are cancelled. This includes meetings held both on and off campus. As things change, we will reevaluate the situation and adjust meeting schedules accordingly. Thank you for understanding.

Source: cookchildrens.org

Maine Medical Center hosts a variety of support groups each month. Most groups meet within the hospital’s Dana Health Education Center at 22 Bramhall Street in Portland or at our Scarborough Campus at 100 U.S. Route 1 in Scarborough.

Source: mainehealth.org

Feel empowered and encouraged. Share tips, coping strategies and laughter. Enjoy a sense of community with people who truly understand what you’re dealing with. Find an AMITA Health support group near you.

Source: amitahealth.org

The Special Needs Resource Directory provides information on support groups and online communities for families with children who have special needs.

Source: cincinnatichildrens.org

Support groups provide an opportunity to share your feelings and connect with other parents and caregivers who are experiencing similar struggles. Learn more about the support groups offered at Penn State Health.

Source: pennstatehealth.org

When a child is diagnosed with an illness, it can affect every member of the family. That’s why the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta offers support groups for both parents and children who are living with epilepsy. Epilepsy Center

Source: choa.org

Franck, L. S., McQuillan, A., Wray, J., Grocott, M. P., & Goldman, A. (2010). Parent stress levels during children’s hospital recovery after congenital heart surgery. Pediatric cardiology31(7), 961–968. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00246-010-9726-5

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