Why We Stressin'? The Father-Child Stress Connection

No pressure, but a stressed out dad has a huge impact on the mental (and general) health of his children, says the American Psychological Association. 

Their researchers did an interview with 921 men and women about the relationship they had with their dads. “The team found that men who reported a good relationship with their fathers during childhood were less affected by stressful events than those who had poor father-son relationships.”

Less research has been done historically about how a father’s mental health affects the mental health of his children, but studies suggest that it has the same bearing as does the mental health of mothers on their children. Both are equally harmful.

A dad and his children laughing and cooking together.

Supporting the mental health of the caregivers and parents of children is a critical health priority of the CDC, yet it is only just now becoming top-of-knowledge for the general public. 

Did You Know

  • Researchers have found that high parenting-related stress in dads is linked to poorer cognitive and language development in their toddlers.
  • A father’s mental health has a big impact on his children’s development and well-being.
  • Kids notice just about everything. That means they also learn about mental health by watching their moms and dads
  • If a parent avoids getting help for a mental health problem, their children may be less likely to seek help if they need it someday.

Those are some pretty stressful statistics. So, how do you ensure that your children handle stressful situations in their adulthood (and even in their childhood) with as much grace as possible? Here are three helpful ideas that can help you keep your stress at a healthy level and create a calm around you and your children. Read on, power dads!

Modeling Good Mental Health

A smiling dad and his daughter meditating together.

Having good mental health is a practice that we all have to put our shoulder to. It takes as much daily intention as it does to take care of our general health. Modeling it for our children can be a great catalyst, too. Whether your child is an infant or a teenager, it’s never too late to show them what it means to practice great mental hygiene. 

Some good places to start:

  • Practice healthy behaviors. Get the sleep you need. Hydrate. Eat well. Drink alcohol in moderation. Make time for physical activity.
  • Schedule fun. Show your children that play never really ends. Schedule time for fun. Go biking, listen to music, hit some golf balls with a friend, or go out on that date night with your partner. Whatever you like to do, make time for it. 
  • Practice mindfulness. Make an effort to focus on the present. When you’re hanging out with your kids, try not to worry about work. If a stressful thought pops in your head, recognize it, and let it go to deal with another time.
  • Ask for help. Many men were taught that needing help is something to be ashamed of. The truth? Every single one of us needs help from time to time. What takes real strength is knowing when you need help and asking for it. Taking care of your own mental health strengthens your ability to be a stronger person. And strong people make great dads.   

If you are dealing with feelings of depression, anxiety or chronic stress, a mental health professional can help you develop the tools to help yourself. To talk to someone who can help you find the resources you need (and just listen), contact the NAMI helpline here

Grab Some Allies

We’re not supposed to be doing this alone. Human parenting takes a lot of resources and yes: a village of people. If you see other people looking like it’s the easiest thing in the world, just give them a minute. Literally everyone needs help with this incredibly important, sometimes stressful job. 

A frustrated dad trying to work on a laptop in a cafe with his child on his lap.

But what do you do if you don’t have family or friends in your area? Here are a few ideas: 

  • Ask your family physician to make a recommendation for a great parenting class in your area. Parenting classes can lessen the effects of stress because they allow parents to share their struggles which shows them that they’re not alone in their experiences and concerns. You also make good friends there. 
  • Create a dads playgroup at your child’s day care center or school. Other dads need friends and support just as much as you do. Why not make it a group? Or, there may already be one. If so, join. 
  • Call the National Parenting Helpline. They can set you up with resources for all kinds of issues from pediatric health to nutrition to local groups in your area who can help with whatever you might need. 

Limit Your Exposure to Negative Media

Negativity just creates more negativity. Which creates stress. Studies have shown that even brief interactions with negative media can cause people to focus more on negative feedback, upsetting images, and threatening words that occur in their everyday lives. 

This triggers stress hormones in the brain that make it hard to redirect yourself to something more positive which can affect your ability to think constructively and solve problems. 

To protect yourself:

  • Pinpoint which signals affect you the most and avoid them
  • Switch off disturbing media
  • Avoid rude, hostile, or judgmental people 
  • Reroute your drive to work to avoid pollution, heavy traffic, noise, and hostility. 

No matter what you do, it can be really rough out there, so remembering these tips and teaching yourself to stop, take a breath, and put things into perspective can go a long way toward creating a peaceful environment around you and your children to keep everyone healthy and happy. 

DWALY is dedicated to helping dads raise strong, kind, loving children, and part of that is inspiring strong, kind, loving DADS. We’re always here to let you know that you’re not ever alone. Reach out! We’re right here.