The Invisible Factor: Your Stress Stresses Your Child

A friend called me on Friday last week and asked me, “Shifra, how does my baby know it’s Erev Shabbos?”

And, despite the fact that my friend’s baby is just a newborn, I’m sure she did know that it was Erev Shabbos. Well, maybe she didn’t know that it was erev Shabbos per-say, but I’m absolutely certain that she knew that SOMETHING was going on.

How?

Because her mother was tense.

Your mood is contagious

We all learn – whether in high school, seminary or in a shiur – how your mood as mother is going to rub off on your whole family. So if you’re happy, your family will be too. If you’re upset, they will be too. Stressed? Them too.

Our kids are great at picking up on our undercurrents of emotion; they’re people readers and are a lot more intuitive than you might think – even a tiny newborn will notice when you’re more stressed and will respond by being a little more stressed, too, in her own little way.

While this definitely affects our children at all times of day, here are some ways that it’s important to be aware of the impact of your stress levels.

Bedtime

The best bedtime routine and healthiest sleep habits can be easily ruined by a stressed caregiver doing the bedtime routine. Whether it’s you, your husband or a babysitter, your children will pick up on the underlying emotion and, subconsciously, play on it.

A tense bedtime will usually result in some kind of protest from the child – for an infant that might mean crying, for a toddler or preschooler, that will mean some silly antics, excuses and sometimes some crying as well.

Of course, the catch-22 with this is when you’re leaving the house – for a chasunah, a dinner, an event or just to get out with your husband – and you’re anxious to put them in bed so you can leave on time and not leave the babysitter dealing with them… and then she ends up having to deal with them anyway because of the tension.

When you find yourself in such a situation, do your best to keep the pre-bedtime environment low-key and calm. When you start the bedtime routine, it can help to do some deep breathing and ask Hashem to help you stay calm. Simply verbalizing your fear and asking for help can go a long way, and, of course, the tefillah itself will help!

If you notice your jaw start to tense, your eyebrows start to furrow, your shoulders start to hunch or your voice start to rise, give yourself a 10 second time-out. Close your eyes, notice your breath and slow it down.

In a new situation

Going to Bubby’s house for Shabbos or Yom Tov? Up to the mountains in the summer? To a hotel for vacation?

No one sleeps well in new situations, and it’s normal to be worried that your child will have a difficult time adjusting.

But being too worried can backfire on you by making your child nervous as well.

As with regular bedtime stresses, noticing when you get stressed and allowing your body to relax is extraordinarily helpful.

Even if you feel your child is too young, talking it out with him and verbalizing some of the emotions he may feel when in the new place (fear, confusion, etc.), and then reassuring him that you know he can do it can be very helpful for both of you. I recommend talking it out with babies as young as 10 months (or younger!).

Talk about what she can expect when you’re in the new place, and what you expect of her.

Should he protest a little more than usual in his new surroundings, stay consistent and keep to your expectations. Offer him occasional intermittent comfort, and be sure to stay calm and confident in his abilities to sleep just as well in the new place as he did at home.

When helping your child build independent sleep skills

This one is a biggy.

As much as staying calm in the other two scenarios I outlined is super important, when teaching your child independent sleep skills, it’s even more important.

Any time your child is learning something new, it’s going to come with some protest. Every child is different and the length or style of protest will vary child to child. You have little to no control over most of the process; it’s really going to be up to your child.

But one of the few things that you can control as your child learns a new skill is how you act and react.

If you’re unsure that “this will work” or that he’ll ever “get it” or you think “there’s something wrong” – your kiddo will pick up on that and think so too.

When you’re with your child focus on your breathing rather than her protest; remind yourself of your goals and know, above all, that she can do it!

Other times

Of course, life happens and somethings may make you simply feel tense. Use the techniques I’ve suggested above or find your own techniques that will work for you to help you all stay calm – even on Erev Shabbos.

 

Did something work well for you? Have any questions? Let me know in the comments below!

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Comments (2)
  1. Chaya Miriam

    Great article!!!!

    • Glad you enjoyed, Chaya Miriam 😉

      Shifra