The Impact of Parental Stress

We all know how damaging stress is but how does it relate to my family? Stress is contagious in some way. Well, it is nearly impossible to be the best parent you can be when you don’t feel well. Anyone who has experienced anxiety and stress knows how impossible it is to just ‘push through.’ In the worst-case scenario, it is debilitating. For many, it is uncomfortable and unpredictable and any sufferer would say that it impacts their life. It also directly affects your children more so than we would like to believe. Newborns look to their primary caregiver to help regulate their emotion. And, when babies are exposed to high levels of the stress hormone (Cortisol), they are at risk for developing behavioral problems and stress-related diseases later in life (Asok et al 2013; Luby et al 2013). When it is bad, toxic stress affects brain development and even shortens the lifespan. It’s not a pretty picture. Older children can be just as affected. When mothers experience anxiety and depression early in the child’s life, research has shown that the kids are more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems later ( Even in the healthiest homes, stress is present. Unfortunately, it is a part of current day culture. Running from one activity to the next is not only commonplace, it feels like if we aren’t doing so, our kids are behind. Stress affects kids’ mood and behavior in different ways including more aches and pains, worry, sadness, hyperactivity, oppositional behavior, withdrawal, depression and anxiety. Stress even suppresses the immune system, making it more difficult to heal from the everyday bumps and bruises of childhood. What a catch 22. Most would agree that having kids is stressful in modern day society, yet being stressed it bad for all our health and trickles down from parents to kids. So, what do we do about it? We need to: 1) assess the stress in our lives, 2) change our cognitive and behavioral response to stressful events, and 3) learn some basic coping skills that everyone in the family can use. This is the first in a series of how to manage stress and anxiety at home. To start, assess your own stress at home with a self-assessment. Later, changing your stressful thoughts and behaviors will be addressed.


Asok A, Bernard K, Roth TL, Rosen JB, and Dozier M. 2013. Parental responsiveness moderates the association between early-life stress and reduced telomere length. Dev Psychopathol. 25(3):577-85.

Luby J, Belden A, Botteron K, Marrus N, Harms MP, Babb C, Nishino T, and Barch D. 2013. The Effects of Poverty on Childhood Brain Development: The Mediating Effect of Caregiving and Stressful Life Events. JAMA Pediatr. 2013 Oct 28. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.3139.

Parental Stress Assessment

(Adapted from The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids: Help for Children to Cope with Stress, Anxiety, and Transitions, 2009)

Type of Stress: Mild (1 Point), Moderate (2 Points), Severe (3 Points)

Add your points below:

Work Hours

  • 20 hours or less - 1
  • 40 hours - 2
  • More than 40 hours/week - 3

Work Stress

  • Work is mostly pleasureable - 1
  • Work is tolerable - 2
  • Work creates significant stress in my life - 3

Number of Kids

  • One - 1
  • Two - 2
  • Three or more - 3

Childcare Support

  • I have generally have quality, reliable childcare - 1
  • I feel okay about my childcare but it could be better - 2
  • I am very pleased with my childcare - 3

Parents' Physical Health

  • I am generally in good health - 1
  • I have some health conditions that require treatment - 2
  • I have a health condition that interferes with my life - 3

Parents' Mental Health

  • I generally feel calm and content - 1
  • I sometimes seem to worry or feel more sad than others - 2
  • I often experience times when I can't stop worrying or feeling sad - 3

Financial Stability

  • I am able to save some money but not a lot - 1
  • I often worry that there is not enough money - 2
  • I have significant financial issues - 3

Social Support

  • I am mostly content with my social support - 1
  • I wish I had more friends and family around to spend time with - 2
  • I often feel alone and unsupported by friends and family - 3


  • I am generally happy with my community - 1
  • I wish my community was a bit different than it is - 2
  • I dislike my local community and would like to move - 3

Safety at Home/Neighborhood

  • My homelife is safe - 1
  • My homelife is generally feels safe but sometimes I feel emotionally or physically threatened - 2
  • I do not feel safe at home - 3

Child's Physical Health

  • My child is in good health - 1
  • My child has some health issues that are generally manageable - 2
  • My child has serious health issues - 3

Child's Mental Health

  • My child is generally happy, aside from normal mood changes - 1
  • My child seems more unhappy or worried than other children - 2
  • My child often cries, worries, or acts our more than his/her peers - 3

Child's School Life

  • My child generally likes school and does well enough - 1
  • My child either doesn't like school and/or has some academic issues - 2
  • My child either hates school and/or has significant learning challenges - 3

Coping Skills

Other Problems

  • My child or I have some other mild problems not addressed here - 1
  • My child or I have other moderate problems otherwise not addressed in the assessment - 2
  • My child or I have other serious problems not addressed in this assessment - 3

Meals Eaten Together as a Family

  • Our family eats together 5-7 time/week - 1
  • Our family eats together 2-4 - 2
  • Our family eats together 0-2 times/week - 3

TOTAL: _____________________________


0-16 = Mild amount of stress. Looks like your parental stress is generally well managed.

17-32 = Moderate amount of stress. Sounds like you experience some parental and learning basic stress management skills could help.

33-47 = Significant amount of stress. Looks like you experience a significant amount of stress and could benefit from stress management skills and/or professional support.

Family Dinner Recipe: Beth Hayes’ Apricot Chicken Thighs

1 Package of Chicken Thighs

1 Jar of Apricot Preserves (I’ve also used Fig)

1 Tbs. Honey

1 Tbs. Grainy Mustard

1 Tbs. Olive Oil

Add the olive oil to a frying pan over high heat brown the chicken thighs and season with salt and pepper. Once the chicken is brown on both sides, dump the whole jar of preserves, the honey, and mustard on top of the chicken and mix. Turn the heat down to low and put a lid on. Finish cooking the chicken over a low simmer for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Serve over rice with a side salad.