Articles

Stress and Resiliency

As young families, we all experience our own measure of stress. I often hear parents talk about their everyday struggles including feelings of isolation, the difficulties in finding quality child care that is not too expensive, frustration about the confusing and contradictory information about child rearing practices, and juggling the work and home environment.

All this is familiar I am sure to any mom and dad in our society today. A question often asked by parents is, ‘Can we raise resilient kids in spite of everyday stressful moments?’

A study published recently in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, suggests that babies with very affectionate and attentive mothers grow up to be more resilient, less anxious adults. The study, which followed 500 babies from the time they were less than 8 month old to the age 34, showed that people who’d enjoyed the most affection from their mothers as infants, had the lowest levels of distress as adults. This was especially true for their levels of anxiety. But across all the psychological symptoms of distress, the results were the similar. More warmth from a mother was associated with less distress later in life.

Based on this study, the researches speculate that there is a strong link between nurturing relationships and adult resiliency, especially in face of adverse situations. The baby who internalizes “good enough mothering”, feels a positive sense of whom they are and form secure attachment with the parents and care takers (which serves as a buffer against stress). The researchers add that a warmer relationship with their mothers may also help children feel more positive emotions more frequently.

When the children(and later adults) feel more positive emotions than negative emotions, they experience less of a surge in Cortisol, the stress hormone, and more in Dopamine and other health promoting and good mood enhancing hormones.

Another hormone worth mentioning is the “cuddle hormone” Oxytocin. In the new book “The Chemistry of Connection” by Susan Kuchinskas, the author is emphasizing that warm and trusting relationships can boost the amount of Oxytocin released to our brain and body. The presence of Oxytocin helps us stay calm and collected in face of stress rather than resort to the more dis-regulated “fight or fight” response.

How can we help parents reduce their stress level so they can foster nurturing, warm relationships with their children, and help them grow up to be securely attached and therefore resilient?

The Center for the Study of Social Policy in DC formulated an approach to help Strengthen Families: they promote five protective factors that, once in place, will enhance raising emotionally healthy kids. (For more information on Strengthening Families Washington visit www.strengtheningfamilies.wa.gov)

The Protective Factors

  • Knowledge of Parenting & Child Development
  • Social Connections
  • Parental Resiliency
  • Concrete Support in Times of Need
  • Social & Emotional Competence of Children

Our Listening Mothers and Reflective Parenting groups fulfill the requirements for protective factors. Parents who come to the groups form social connections and receive support from other members of the group. They learn about their child’s developmental stages and how to respond appropriately. They gain emotional literacy as they become more attuned to their child’s verbal and non verbal cues. Their ability to become emotional coaches to their children help their children feel comfortable with their changing emotional and social needs.

During group discussion, parents become more aware about their own emotional states as well as learn the importance of emotional regulation. Gradually, as they begin to internalize the information and learn to stay centered and calm while facing potentially stressful situations. They begin to feel more competent, open, warm, and loving. According to the research mentioned above, their children, too will grow up to be less anxious and more resilient adults.

By Yaffa Maritz