Family Stress Theory – Discover The 5 Major Causes

family stress theory

Family Stress Theory

This post on Family Stress Theory is meant primarily for “moms and dads.”   It can also be used by mental health professionals as a reference document that can be given to parents to help them examine their own particular family stress dynamics.

family stress theoryWe wanted to create an article that would provide parents with an overview of family stress theory and more importantly one that could be used not only to specifically familiarize the reader with the causes & symptoms of family stress … but could also be used by the entire family to help them look for common family stress factors.

Our hope is that once armed with this basic understanding, parents will be better equipped to take an honest look at the stress in their own household as well as provide a family counselor with a clear picture of their current| family dynamics in language that both family members and counselors understand.

Typical family crises often include incidents domestic or physical violence, recurring or persistent substance abuse/misuse, illness, major diseases or serious health problems arising from weak immune systems, divorce, parental separation, serious on-the-job accidents, child abuse/neglect, etc.

Give You a Basic Understanding …

back-to-basicsOur hope is that equipped with this basic understanding of family stress theory, parents will be better equipped to take an honest look at the stress and anxiety levels in their own family as well as provide a family therapist with clear information on their current household characteristics as well as possible stressors.

In times of significant stress, our own coping skills as well as specific parenting skills, may need improvement. A serious illness, marital conflict, divorce, a close relative’s death, moving to a new city, or a financial crisis like having your home in foreclosure can lead to a thunderstorm of feelings, especially for children. Typically, parents are not well equipped to handle these sustained emotional storms such events produce either.

When parents are experiencing high stress, keep in mind that stress might affect your children differently from exactly how it impacts you as a mom or dad. Just as your parenting & coping skills can be reduced in times of great stress and anxiety, kids might act very differently from their normal behavior when they are under significant stress or high anxiety.

Recognizing The Signs & Symptoms

new stress testRecognizing the signs and symptoms of stress in your family and also identifying the stress factors causing it is extremely important.  A change in the behavior of a family member is often the first sign of stress and anxiety in your family.

Such behavior changes should trigger an examination of what’s happening with your child to produce this new behavior.  Recognizing & Identifying the signs stress and anxiety, and| as well as determining the primary stressors causing this behavior is essential and the way you can start to lessen the stress in your family.  Here are some examples of family srtessors:

    • Recurring Physical Discomfort/Pain, such as a stomach ache that occurs when it’s time to go to school or a body ache every day before practice of the sports team they are on without an identifiable injury or health factor.
    • family stress theoryAvoidance Behaviors, such as claiming they don’t want to participate in something that they used to enjoy doing regularly.
    • Emotional changes such as an outgoing child suddenly withdrawing and becoming unhappy and appearing sad| or depressed almost constantly, or a mild-mannered kid who quickly becomes short-tempered or develops an explosive temper.
    • School Performance:  changes such as sudden dropping of the child’s grades or reports that your child is acting out in class.
    • Visible Increases in Fears & Worries:  expressed anxieties about things that never seemed to bother your child before.
    • Sleep/Rest Changes: difficulty sleeping or resting that is much greater than what was typical for your child.

stay-alertIt’s important to stay alert to unfolding and developing stresses & anxieties. Recurring effects of family stress and anxiety situations may occur over weeks, months, or even years.

In some situations, it may return in various stages later on in life as the stress is re-experienced. Remaining to be open to such changes as well as actively listening to your kids when they share their thoughts is vital. Emotionally “processing” stressful situations is rarely a one-time| discussion.

Family Stress Theory – The 5 Main Stress Generators

Below are five (5} types of family stress generators as well as how you can possibly manage them:

1. Divorce or Separation

divorceSet the stage for your kids’ long-term adjustment to this major life event. Be direct and honest with them about what’s happening.  You should answer as many of their questions as is practical. Most of their questions will be about what is going to happen to them. To the greatest extent possible, make sure that you and your spouse provide the same/similar answers because your kids will want to see that they are getting the same story from both of their parents.

Maintain your composure when you talk to them. It’s OK for you to be sad, but not OK to openly show your own anxiety and panic. As best as you can … “assure them” that everything and everyone will be OK.  Recognize that children may blame themselves so assure them that the divorce/separation is NOT THEIR FAULT.

Build in some time for your kids to prepare for the separation and if possible, but not for so much time that they can stew over it or start to think it won’t happen or that they may somehow be able to do something to prevent it.


family stress theoryRemain respectful and considerate with your ex-partner. Continuous parental fighting and conflict after a divorce/separation can almost guarantee your kids will cope by displaying negative behaviors. Don’t place your children in the middle of your marital problems by badmouthing each other. You have the opportunity to show your kids how to handle conflict and remain civil no matter how your ex-spouse is behaving. Remember that you children love BOTH of their parents.

Try to maintain rules & guidelines at each home that are as similar as possible. Kids prefer consistency and they can adapt to different home rules at different homes provided that they are consistent in their application. Establish this family rule structure so your kids can manage & adjust to this life-changing event.

2. Illness/Disease/Serious Health Problems

sick-momSerious health problems are extremely stressful no matter whom it affects.  Such circumstances can’t be fully covered in this article.

So please reach out to your extended circle of friends & family for support and try these suggestions:

    • Kids thrive on predictability. Maintaining normality is important. Find as many things that can remain the same for your kids whether it’s the time you eat dinner, a regular time to do homework or keeping the tradition of the family Friday night movie.
    • Avoid the natural desire overprotect your kids or indulge them in ways that are unusual from your what has been normal for you. It just sends the wrong message that you think they are too fragile, incompetent or you doubt their ability to make it through difficult times.
    • It’s OK to want to protect them but balance your support and desire to protect them with your belief in your child’s capacity to handle difficulty. If you believe in them, they will believe in themselves.

3. Financial Problems

parents-money-stressFinancial uncertainty can stress the entire family because it impacts everyone’s safety & security.  Children pick up on signs from their parents so you can assume that they will certainly notice mom’s and dad’s stress and anxiety.   Yet children likely do not have the life experience to understand what’s happening in any realistic “context” so that even begin to understand what is actually taking place.

Explain any necessary changes in the family’s standard of living that will impact their lives, as well as answer their questions as truthfully as you can.  This helps ease any misconceptions that may take place. If kids do not have their questions answered, they will fill in the blank spots with their imagination.  Most of all, reassure them that you will take care of them. And allow your kids to share their ideas on where the family can cut back on family spending. Inexpensive family time having picnics at local parks, riding bikes together or simply playing popular table games.

All of these can be an inexpensive way of spending quality time together.  Keeping the family busy will help everyone avoid worrying about money.

4. Moving/Relocating

moving-familyFamily Stress Theory indicates that moving to a brand-new home or school can be very tough. While the reasons for moving vary, the implications for a youngster no matter where they happen to live are most often the same: brand-new school, new neighborhood and having no friends at the new location.

As exciting as it may be, recognizing that a major move in which almost everything changes can be a very tough transition. It’s important to give your child as much support as possible so they can cope.

family stress theoryPrepare them as much in advance as you can. Equip your kids and build their self-confidence by letting them make some decisions about the move. Which things they will take and which they will give away, what color to repaint their new room, and so on.  Give them a chance to ask questions. Ask them questions that can’t be answered with just a yes or no, such as, “What do you think about that?” and “How does that make you feel?” Let your kids see that you are anxious about the move too … that will help them see that such feelings are natural.

After all, you’ll have to begin in an unfamiliar place as well and make brand-new friends yourself. It’s good to show them that you are having the same feelings as they are and to also model for them how these feelings can be “experienced” as well as “managed” so they don’t disable you emotionally.

5. A New Baby

new babyAnd finally family stress theory suggests that young children are well-known for believing that a new baby is a trespasser on their territory and at times even older siblings can feel this way as well.  A new baby makes the circumstances of a brother or sisters’ lives as well as place in the family very uncertain.

As happy as you are, remember that your children may not feel the same joy as you do.  Make sure there is a balance of family time and individual time with mom and dad.  Protect the extracurricular activities your older children enjoy, even if it’s hard for you to handle them and a newborn.

family stress theoryAccept and confirm that you understand how your kids feel and be willing to talk about his/her feelings, frustrations and also any benefits that the see. Allow your child to air their frustrations and also pay attention very carefully to her stress signals.  Encourage your child by getting his help with the new baby’s care when appropriate.

Also, self-care is essential to good parenting, and taking care of yourself is very important. Who is going to care for your family if something happens to you because you don’t take the time to take care of yourself?


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