You work hard in a high-stress job. You fight traffic to pick your kids up from daycare, school or sports. Then you go from chauffeur to chef at home.
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It’s no wonder toddler tantrums or teenage rebellion can push a parent over the edge.
Learning to manage stress can give you the patience, energy and perspective to be the parent you want to be. And it will pay dividends for your health and ability to function well.
Here, our pediatric experts share some tips on managing stress for parents:
Try not to bring stress home
It isn’t easy, but separating work life from home life is important, says pediatrician J. Michael Wertman, MD.
- Try talking briefly to a friend, spouse or coworker to help defuse stress before you leave work.
- Imagine putting your problems in a box to compartmentalize them. This can help redirect your energy to your home life and children.
- “On the drive home, be aware of how you’re feeling,” he suggests. “Is traffic increasing your stress? If so, try to ‘chill.’ Take a deep breath, play music.”
There’s nothing better than coming home to a warm welcome from your kids and family. “If not, find your child and get a hug,” he says.
Seek opportunities for fun
Choose activities to do with your kids that make you happy. “You’ll feel better about yourself and will deal better with your kids,” says Dr. Wertman.
- Love sports? Coach or cheer for your child’s team (but avoid making everything a win-lose situation).
- Are you a bookworm? Read to your kids, then discuss the book. “It’s an opportunity to be positive, to encourage and to enjoy a unique closeness,” he notes.
“My biggest joy was always looking for the laughter and finding the smile. If that happened, I considered my day a success.”
Remember to relax and recharge
Take time for yourself every day.
“Even if it’s just an hour in the evening after the kids go to bed, it’s really important to have time to ‘reset’ as a parent,” says pediatric nurse practitioner Crista Zufan, CNP. “I find reading in the evening a great way to decompress and relieve stress.”
You probably know what works for you. “Whether it’s yoga, meditation, reading a book, playing cards, watching TV or playing sports, try to incorporate it into your day,” says Dr. Wertman.
At day’s end, “get a good night’s sleep,” advises pediatrician Svetlana Pomeranets, MD. Equally important is keeping kids on a routine schedule, especially for bedtime.
Ask for backup when you need it
Feel overwhelmed at times? Don’t be afraid to ask your family or your spouse for help. Trying to be “supermom” or “superdad” is a recipe for stress, and your kids will benefit from your reaching out.
“You’ll make better decisions, you’ll be a better listener, and you’ll enjoy interacting more with your children,” says Dr. Pomeranets. “You’ll be less tempted to yell and more likely to model proper behavior for them.”
Find yourself feeling excessively and continuously worried? Talk to your healthcare provider, she says.
Connect with fellow parents
“Form connections with families whose kids are similar in age to relate to others in the same boat,” suggests Dr. Pomeranets. “You’ll find you’re not alone.”
This helps to normalize any feelings of stress, explains Ms. Zufan. “Talking with other parents lets me know that everyone goes through similar stressors,” she says.
Take a break from it all
When did you last truly connect with your partner? Plan to get away from your everyday routine.
“Make time to do things on your own, as a couple,” says Ms. Zufan. “A ‘date night’ once a month can help to keep your marriage strong and alleviate stress.”
Plan a getaway or vacation for your family, too. “I schedule time off when my kids have school breaks, so we can enjoy our time together,” says Dr. Pomeranets.
Keep your life well-balanced
Avoid overscheduling yourself every day and on weekends, says Dr. Pomeranets. Signing kids up for too many extracurriculars can stress them out — and the extra time, coordination and driving required kicks up the pressure on parents.
Also, every balanced life should include physical activity. The fact that working out and playing sports are great stress-relievers is icing on the cake.
“You can exercise in your own basement — you don’t need a gym,” says Dr. Pomeranets. “I try to do a little every day.”
The best reason of all to manage your stress is a simple one: “It allows you to feel the joy of parenting,” she says.
The more you experience good times and happy interactions with your kids, the easier it will be to handle bed-wetting, sibling rivalry and other parenting challenges with grace.