Part 1: Recognize the importance of family stress management
Joe and Emily live in Southern California with their three young children. Both work and must commute 2 hours daily on busy freeways, often not getting home until 7:30 PM, exhausted and depleted.
Stressed, they have little patience for the antics of their young children. This results in frequent shouting matches, defiance on the part of the children, and escalating family tension.
As the above illustrates, stress is often an underlying cause of anger in family members. Sometimes the stress is caused by events outside of the family which family members bring into the home. In other cases, the behavior of family members creates stress and tension in the home. In either case, it becomes a problem when parents find themselves constantly yelling at their children or disagreeing with each other on parenting strategies.
In the meantime their children continue to do what they please—or continue bickering and fighting with each other. When not addressed, stress becomes a major factor in marital unhappiness and, ultimately, divorce.
Stress and family members Joe and Emily both suffered individual stress symptoms. These included fatigue, irritability, angry outbursts, headaches and a discontent with their lives. They began feeling increasingly distant from each other.
Their children were also stressed-out; tired, irritable, cranky, and demanding of attention. They often fought with each other and deliberately did things to get each other in trouble with their parents.
Symptoms of family stress
Just as individuals can become overloaded and stressed-out, so can families. To understand how this can happen, we must remember that families such as Joe and Emily’s are the basic building block of our society (like most societies).
Part 2: How empathy reduces family anger
Families consist of two or more people with shared goals and values and with a long term commitment to each other. Families are supposed to help children learn how to become responsible, successful, happy, and well-adjusted adults. When this no longer happens due to stress, the family unit becomes dysfunctional —as the family no longer serves its purpose fully, easily or consistently.
We can recognize the dysfunctional family by noting that parents and children no longer turn to each other for support, encouragement, guidance, or even love. Such family members may continue to live in the same house—but not feel emotionally attached to each other. They fail to view their family as a warm place to retreat to from the stresses and demands of the outside world.
Stress-Guard your family
Tip #1- Teach your children “resiliency” —the ability to handle stress and respond more positively to difficult events. Help your children practice “bouncing back” by emphasizing the importance of having friends and being a friend; setting new goals and plans to reach them, and believing in themselves.
Tip #2– Commit to stable family rituals.
Have a way to leave each other in the morning, and to re-connect in the evening; have a Sunday morning ritual or a Friday night family pizza ritual. Rituals create a sense of security and predictability —both excellent stress buffers.
Tip #3- Model and teach your children conflict resolution skills.
Children learn how to handle conflict by watching their parents. All couples have conflicts; better parents model good conflict resolution skills for their children. These skills include compromise, calm discussion, and focus on problem-solving. Encourage your children to find a way to resolve their own conflicts rather than jumping in and punishing one or the other child whom you think (perhaps, wrongly) is the troublemaker.
Tip #4– Introduce a family “better health” plan.
This includes proper nutrition, exercise, and adequate sleep each night. The family may also want to look at time management—and explore how how better time management might reduce both personal and family stress.
Tip #5- Minimize criticism and take time to support each other each day.
Excessive criticism is extremely harmful to both children and parents. Emotional support by family members is an extremely important buffer to family stress.
About The Author
Dr. Tony Fiore is a So. California licensed psychologist, and anger management trainer. His company, The Anger Coach, provides anger and stress management programs, training and products to individuals, couples, and the workplace. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter “Taming The Anger Bee” at www.angercoach.com and receive two bonus reports.