Mind coach says 'parents should look after their mental health during the summer holidays'
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Gone are the scheduled six to seven hours of childcare each day, homework to occupy your children in the evenings, and after-school clubs to keep them stimulated.
Now you need to think about summer schemes, day camps, or child minders, which can be an added financial burden and requires extra coordination when it comes to lifts, daily routines and much more.
According to Sam Barr of Healthy Mind Coaching and Training in Belfast, many parents have the added pressure of having to “plan out a fun summer holiday with the family and dealing with the added financial costs, not to mention new summer clothing to beat the heat (or the rain) in addition to all of the transport and accommodation costs”.
Sam explained that, for many parents, even if their children are older and in their teens, usually the childcare stress is replaced by other stressors.
He said: “Many teenagers are in transitional periods from getting used to ‘big school’ to getting ready to study for GCSE or A-Levels, or waiting for results for important exams.
“Not just that moving from primary to secondary school and secondary to further education can cause a wealth of anxiety and stress in both parents and children.”
One thing Sam said is important for parents is to take a step back off the hamster wheel and put into place some coping strategies to help your family have a less-stressful summer.
Here are Sam’s top tips:
1. Accept that you can’t be a ‘perfect’ parent
Sam said: “Often, parents feel guilty that they are failing their kids in some way or worry that the decisions they make are the wrong ones. However, in trying to be a perfect parent, you may be harming your own mental health and the mental health of your children.”
According to Psychology Today, an intensive parenting style and child-centrism is associated with increased stress and depression in parents.
Sam added: “Don’t feel guilty about having to work when your children are off - space and independence is great for your child’s development, especially if that time is spent socialising with other children at summer schemes, or even their own siblings.”
2. Get in touch with your problem-solving side
Following on from accepting you don’t have to be a perfect parent, Sam said your sense of empathy could be the thing that is stressing you out.
“If your child is going through a difficult or stressful transition period, you may be experiencing ‘affective empathy’, feeling your child’s pain and spiking your cortisol levels as a result,” he said.
While empathising with your children is a positive thing, another type of empathy known as ‘cognitive empathy’ involves taking another person’s perspective and imagining what would make them feel better.
In one study, mothers who emphasised the cognitive empathy route showed the least stress reactivity during decision making. We don’t have to live our children’s feelings to be sensitive to them. And this is important to bear in mind for our next tip.
3. Consider other perspectives
Sam said that: “ultimately stressful things happen and there is no way to totally avoid them.” However, he explained that you can manage your stress better by reconsidering the situation from a new angle or perspective.
“If your child is acting out, it is often a product of their developmental stage and lack of skills or knowledge rather than intentional misbehaviour” said Sam.
Psychological research finds that parents who are able to view their child’s behaviour like this experience less stress. Getting them into a new hobby could help this behaviour and allow them to channel their energy into something productive.
4. Seek out social connections
Support from family members, friends, and other parents can have a big impact on the mental and emotional wellbeing of parents.
Social support allows you to build a web of connections to help you when you’re in need - maybe your sibling can pick the kids up while you’re at an appointment, or another parent can schedule a playdate to give you a Saturday off, which you can later return the favour for.
Sam said: “It’s important to try to make connections with people that understand you, and you’ll be less afraid to reach out for help. You may be surprised by just how much other parents or friends are happy to help out.
“You can reach out to other parents at your child’s school or summer scheme, find local parenting groups, or try out a new hobby that involves other people, such as a night class or sporting club.”
5. Seek professional support
If you’ve become totally overwhelmed by the stress of parenting, you should consider seeking a consultation with a mental health professional. Similarly, if you think your teen is feeling overwhelmed it could be worth considering coaching for them.
Therapy, particularly cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), is very effective at reducing stress and anxiety symptoms, as a therapist can teach you effective methods for managing your negative emotions.
For many struggling parents getting time to themselves and time to step away from the chaotic and busy life can be hard. Taking a little time out each week to focus on yourself and your own mental health can have a huge impact when feeling overwhelmed or stressed.
Sam explained: “For many people it’s hard to see things objectively when they’re immersed in a crisis or a stressful situation. Sometimes ‘getting through it’ is all we can think about.
“When clients come to me for mindset coaching I work with them to create coping strategies and to recognise important triggers of stress and anxiety. Sometimes all they need is that time away to be able to focus on their own mental and emotional health and resilience.”
6. Budget for more time
Time pressure affects everyone, but it can particularly affect parents. Young children take longer to react and longer to learn, so understand that your little one is not intentionally going slow.
“Many families would benefit from adjusted expectations for time-frames,” said Sam, adding: “If you’re planning on taking your kids out to an activity or on holiday, start preparations as early as you can, sometimes a lot of stress is created from unrealistic expectations of other people. Try to be realistic about what your family can achieve in comparison to your expectations.”
7. Get comfortable in nature
If you can’t afford a summer holiday this year, there are other avenues you can go down, said Sam.
“Nature is great for stress-busting, and some much needed outdoor time away from all-consuming screens can boost family bonding while lowering your stress levels,” he added.
“Spending time outdoors can reduce tension, anger, confusion, and depression, in addition to cortisol levels, multiple studies have found.”
Through Healthy Mind Coaching, Sam offers services to help you improve your wellbeing, particularly during times of stress or difficulty. Healthy Mind Coaching offers one-to-one sessions designed to help you overcome your current challenges or frustrations, and enable you to live a more positive lifestyle by providing strategies designed to challenge and overcome negative thoughts and unhelpful feelings. To find out more call Sam on 07906 869616 or go to healthymindcoaching.co.uk
It starts by working on the present in order to empower you for the future, prioritising your mental and emotional wellbeing. Healthy Mind Coaching offers a free 20 minute consultation for you to see how they can work with you to achieve your goals and aspirations.