Kids grow up in the image of those who raised them, which can be deep and meaningful when parent pass along their best traits, but it can also mean that a two-year-old might drop an f-bomb because they heard one of their parents say it.
They say imitation is the best form of flattery but for parent’s trying to show their children authenticity, it can definitely backfire.
So, how does a parent’s daily attitude affect their kids and what can you do to stop kids from picking up your bad habits? A local expert weighs in.
What do children notice?
Dr. Laura Hutchison, the licensed psychologist behind Hutchison & Associates, and director of the Michigan Play Therapy Academy says, “body language, facial expressions, tone of voice are being noticed by the child — from these nonverbal cues children would be able to deduce a parent’s attitude.”
In other words, even though a parent might not be explicitly revealing how they’re feeling, children can usually detect it anyway.
With coronavirus, parents are currently spending a lot more time at home, which means that their usual behavioral regulations are out the window, and the steps that parents take to relieve negativity are no longer options, which can result in unintentional anger and aggression.
But occasional outbursts aren’t the issue because it would be impossible for parents to stay genuinely positive 24/7. The key is determining when our attitudes are affecting our behaviors or are influencing the behavior or our kids.
“If our attitudes, opinions and feelings are affecting our behaviors in such a way that it could be physically or emotionally harmful to another or a relationship, then we have some repair work to do,” Dr. Hutchinson says. “Sometimes as parents we really need to watch our own feelings getting in the way of how we’d like our children to feel, so there are situations where it is better if put aside our own feelings in order not to cloud theirs. Examples of this could be a parent’s own anxiety for the start of school or a new activity — If we verbally dwell on our anxiety in front of our child and well as give nonverbal cues that we don’t think they’ll be safe, the child will likely pick up on this and become anxious.”
When our kids pick up on our emotions, it then becomes a self-fulfilling cycle, Hutchison adds.
The long-term effects of stress are dependent on the child’s biological predisposition as well as the emotional intention of the action. The relationship between parent and child is also important in determining how they will react to stress, and negativity.
“If the parent’s negative attitude is pervasive towards all areas, the effects can be very damaging on the child’s self-esteem,” the doc explains. “If a parent as a negative attitude towards ‘everything’ it is likely that the child will feel there is nothing they can do that is good enough.”
Positivity through self-care
If you’re worried your attitude might be affecting your kids, there are some basic tactics that parents can employ to project a healthy mindset.
The first is self-care. Dr. Erin Hunter, Interim Director of the University Center for the Child and the Family, says that “relationships don’t tend to work one way,” meaning that the parents and children both have to be mentally strong in order to maintain a united front.
Self-care can encompass anything from treating yourself to a nice dinner to seeking therapy, if needed.
Wellness, according to Ferris State University is “an interactive process of becoming aware of and practicing healthy choices to create a more successful and balanced lifestyle”. This includes ensuring the right amount of sleep or eating right and exercising, but also involves social practices. By engaging with other and finding time to relax, in any way possible, can help a parent feel more at ease with their individuality.
Here are some strategies that Dr. Hunter suggests to help parents cope with everyday stress:
- Self-compassion. Being compassionate for themselves and the difficult thing they are going through now. There’s not always an easy answer but entering a mindful headspace can make it easier to use calming strategies.
- Be Mindful. Mindfulness is the practice of letting yourself be in the current moment without judgement. Through techniques such as square breathing, five-fingered breathing and muscle relaxation, children can learn healthy ways to deal with stress. Mindfulness apps like Headspace or Calm, can help you learn mindfulness and employ mindfulness strategies affectively.
- Socialization. The modern-day village involves apps and technology, especially in a pandemic. Parents and children might have to get creative with how to form a support system but doing so is key in keeping stress under control.
- Prioritize yourself. Do something for yourself every day, even if it’s only for five minutes. Parents set the ceiling for what their kids can do, so participating in your own interests and hobbies, or even just taking the time to read a book, take a walk, do a craft, or take a bath can be beneficial for you and will mirror positive habits for your kids to follow.