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How Parental Stress Can Affect a Child's Mental Health

Stress is something that impacts everyone, yet children are particularly vulnerable to its effects. An excessive amount of stress can have a detrimental effect on a young person’s growth and overall wellbeing. Such levels of tension can not only shape an individual's emotional state when they reach adulthood, but it can also affect their physical health in the long-term.

It's an undeniable truth that the current climate of the world has brought with it a wave of stress, especially for parents. Having to manage the changing circumstances at schools, working commitments, and much more has had a clear impact on mental health issues such as stress and anxiety.

In order to reduce stressors impacting children, addressing the stress on their parents is essential. As such, Prof. John Sharry, Psychotherapist, Clinical Director and Co-Founder of SilverCloud® by Amwell® was recently interviewed to shed light on the relationship between parental stress and its impact on the mental health of children. 

Navigating Parental Stress and Its Role in Children's Mental Health

When a parent is stressed out it has a tendency to transfer over to the child, something that cannot be avoided due to the nature of the relationship between parent and kid. Learn more about how parental stress can impact a child’s mental health by taking a look at Prof. John Sharry’s insight below.

Can you analyse and explain your understanding of the cyclical and bi-directional relationship between a parent and child's mental health?

“The bond between parents and their children is often inextricably linked to each other's mental health. When the parent can model positivity and happiness, it can create an environment where the child more likely feels safe and secure as well. Such an atmosphere fosters greater well-being for everyone involved.”

What are common physical, cognitive, behavioural and emotional symptoms of stress in parents?

“Signs of strain in parents are usually exemplified by typical manifestations of tension, like anxiety, quick-temperedness, trouble getting enough sleep and even physical reactions including migraines and being unwell.”

What are common derivatives/triggers of parental stress?

“The lives of parents can be fraught with triggers, ranging from chaotic workplace environments to financial difficulties and lack of social support. The same goes for within the family circle, where issues like infant sleep problems and marital pressure have been known to cause undue stress. Additionally, poor family routines can add an extra layer of complication when it comes to parenting.”

How does parental stress impact a parent’s attitude and behaviours towards their children?

“When parents are under pressure, it can have a major impact on their parenting abilities. This is because feeling stressed stops them from being able to really listen and understand what their children are saying. Additionally, it causes parents to become irritable and more likely to respond harshly when faced with difficult moments.”

How does parental stress impact children during different stages of development?

“At varying points in life, stress may take on a new shape. From infancy to teenage years, the struggles can differ greatly. When children are babies, sleep deprivation is common and parents face major adjustments such as changes to their work and social lives. As children become teenagers, rebellion may be an obstacle alongside parents entering retirement age and having to think about the future.”

How does the relationship between parents/caregivers and children impact resiliency?

"A strong bond between parent and child provides an essential foundation for a healthy relationship. When a parent is attuned to their child's needs and responds with compassion, it has the power to create incredible resilience in the child. Warmth and connection are paramount for both parties to feel connected."

What support services can promote relational, interpersonal, and familial wellbeing even in the face of challenges?

"There are a variety of support services that parents and children can seek out. These often include:

What are effective ways to manage the mental health needs of the whole family?

  • "Look after parent well being: encourage parents to reduce stress and prioritise their self-care
  • Support parent child relationship: encourage daily playtime, build good routines around bedtime, spend quality time together with active listening
  • Support parents’ adult relationships: spend quality time with partners and prioritise coparenting. Seek out social support and expanding friendships."

Supporting the Mental Health Needs of the Whole Family

Stress is a common factor in almost every person's life, regardless of age. It's omnipresent, can arise from many sources, and even spread from one person to another. This becomes particularly concerning for children when their parents are the source of this stress.

Unfortunately, whereas an adult may be able to separate themselves from those causing them stress in order to stop being negatively impacted by it altogether - this isn't something children and young people have the ability to do when their parents are concerned.

SilverCloud® by Amwell® provides accessible, scalable, digital behavioral healthcare for the needs of the entire family. Our
mental health services for children and young people include a growing suite of digital wellbeing programmes with interactive tools for young people and their carers to understand and manage anxiety and depression.

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