5 common family stress points - and how to solve them

Dealing with tiredness can be one of the most difficult parts of parenthood.
Dealing with tiredness can be one of the most difficult parts of parenthood. Photo: Getty Images

Jackie Hall, counsellor and founder of the Parental Stress Centre of Australia, has spent the a decade helping mums and dads navigate parenthood and create happy households. 

Jackie reveals the top five questions stressed parents of young children ask, and shares her answers.

1.  Whenever my toddler/baby starts whining or fussing, I instantly feel anxious. How can I stop this?

Counsellor Jackie Hall
Counsellor Jackie Hall 

It's important to know that events themselves are not what cause anxiety or stress. What we feel comes from how we perceive those events.

So when your little one starts whining, that stress or anxiety you feel is actually a conflict between belief and reality. The reason we get stressed is because we are expecting the situation to be different from the way it actually is.  We get stuck in a story in our own minds about how we should be able to stop them from whining and how we've had enough of the whining.

It's this conversation with ourselves that causes us to feel stressed. The whining is just noise, really, but we perceive it to be noise that "I must stop now!".

Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason why your child is acting this way. They just are. The solution is to accept the reality of that situation without judging it. This is how you find yourself feeling more at ease and more solution-focussed because you are no longer stuck in your thoughts.

2. My toddler never listens to me. How can I change this?

One thing I say to parents of children under four is not to personalise your child's behaviour, rather, turn your attention to their brain development.

Your toddler is still learning to understand, categorise and link one event with another, which means they are often very distracted from one moment to the next. At this age, they don't understand you have feelings and how they can impact on them. Keeping this in mind can really improve the way you respond to your toddler.

Once you understand the reality of your toddler's brain development, you can start to look for ways to gain their attention and shift their focus to an instruction and how you can get them to co-operate.  Playing games and appealing to your toddler's natural sense of adventure can do wonders for helping them want to follow instructions.

3. I get so frustrated when my children all need me at once.  What can I do?

While mums are known for their exceptional ability to multi-task, often it's not possible to do two things at once. Sometimes you just can't be everything to everyone, and somebody has to wait.

When you accept this reality there is no stress. Stress arises because of how you perceive this demand.

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It could be that you feel you aren't being a good parent or you fear your child won't feel loved. But to change this frustration, we need to change the conversations we have about being in demand.  Learning how to accept the inevitable challenges of parenting, frees our attention up to find solutions to those situations.

4. How can I stop my toddler's tantrums?

The reality is, that sometimes you can't.  One common statement you will hear from the Parental Stress Centre of Australia is that your toddler's behaviour will not be rational at times.

This is because rationale is a part of the brain that does not form until around the age of 5 or 6 years of age.  Toddlers are still learning about emotions and are very "in the moment" - sometimes it can be difficult for them to think about moving from one event to the next as we would.

There are ways to reduce the chances of a tantrum to begin with however. Think about things from their point of view and use it to your advantage.  Understanding their need for certainty, their need for fun, their ability to be easily distracted and how tiredness can affect them, can all be used to help avoid tantrums.

5. I get so angry and impatient when I'm tired. How can I deal with lack of sleep better?

Being tired is the most difficult thing to deal with when becoming a parent.  We are often told to let things go and sleep whenever you can, but what about when that's not possible? 

The best thing you can do is practice mindfulness.  Allow yourself to be tired.  Don't resist it.  Recognise that you will not be as alert and functional as you are when you sleep well.  Do each activity deliberately. Move your focus from one thing to the next from moment to moment.  Slow your actions down where you can, rather than speed them up.

Allow yourself the flexibility to lower your expectations on what "should" be achieved in your day and recognise that this won't last forever.