A difficult situation at work, lack of sleep, financial worries, lack of free time – and then a child who throws food on the floor or doesn’t want to go to bed: your heart beats faster, your breathing increases. Or you have to take the children to school and then catch a train to work, and your daughter is wearing the wrong pants… Sometimes as a parent you can respond to this patiently, sometimes not.
“Parenting stress is very normal, because we have high expectations ourselves, or because we want to do something better than we can. And also because children often show unexpected emotions or behavior, and parents have to keep many balls in the air at the same time,” says stress expert Marie-Anne Vanderhasselt (UGent). She is the author of the book Parents under high tension and contributed to the Growing Up campaign.
Growing Up launches this campaign with a catchy song by Captain Winokkio, which is specifically aimed at parents: “Doesn’t your baby stop crying? Are you having trouble keeping up? Has your smile suddenly disappeared? Do the 4-4-4.” He presented it on Friday at the Huis van het Kind in Vilvoorde, a place where parents with young children can go if they need a chat or just to get away from it all.
Inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds. “Breathing is a powerful way to reduce your stress level,” says Vanderhasselt. “Singing or dancing together also helps. Or go outside and shout. Be aware of how high your stress level is and look for ways to release it. Because if the rubber band is always tense, it will break.”
“Children demand time. We all know that, but we tend to forget it,” says Bruno Vanobbergen, head of Growing Up. “Parents often ask us for concrete tips and tools to deal with this. That is why we are launching this campaign, but we are addressing it to everyone: companies can also give young parents more space and flexibility, so that parenting stress can be reduced.”
Child psychiatrist Binu Singh (UZ Leuven) agreed: “The first years of life are very important and young children are very vulnerable. But we shouldn’t blame everything on the parents. I would like to open it up to other educators, kindergarten teachers, neighbors, family, employers: if you see that a parent in your area is struggling, ask what you can do to help.”
More tips: www.opvoedstress.be