Help for Stressed Out Families (Part 1)

(Published in Family Magazine May 2011 2nd Issue)

Dr. Kara Powell

Increase in stress has become common among families where parents now have to work from home and kids have to learn from home because of the pandemic. Especially in these times, it’s important to remember how we as parents can affect our kids negatively if we are not careful to manage our stress. In Part 1 of “Help for Stressed out Families,” Dr. Kara Powell details the connection between parental stress and the stress of our children. 

When was the last day you experienced no stress?

Can you even remember one?

What about your kids?  When is the last day they experienced a stress-free day?

The answer might surprise you.  Your kids are probably more stressed than you might think, and here’s an even bigger wake-up call:  Part of that stress stems from your own stress.

After surveying over 2,000 U.S. adults and over 1,000 U.S. children ranging from 8 to 17 years old, the recently-released 2010 Stress in America Report holds both bad news and good news for families.  First, the bad news: Our parental stress seeps into our kids.  But here’s the good news:  By making a few small changes in your family, your home can become a refuge from stress.

How is Parental Stress Affecting Kids?

According to the Stress in America study conducted by the American Psychological Association, no parent is an island.  Our own stress trickles, or in some cases, gushes, through our family.  Some of the most interesting (and may I say personally convicting) findings include:1

. One-third of children surveyed between ages 8-17 believe their parent has been “always” or “often” worried or stressed out about things during the past month.

. Four in 10 children report feeling sad when their parent is stressed or worried.

. One-third of children (34 percent) say they know their parent is worried or stressed out when they yell. Other signs of parental stress perceived by children are arguing with other people in the house, complaining or telling children about their problems and being too busy or not having enough time to spend with them.

. Nearly a third of children surveyed between ages 8-17 reported that in the past month, they experienced physical health symptoms that are often associated with stress such as sleep problems, headaches, and an upset stomach.

As disconcerting as those findings are, something else bothers me more.  The study also found that parents are largely unaware of their kids’ stress levels.  According to the report, “One in five children worry a lot or a great deal about things in their lives but very few parents (8 percent) report that their child is experiencing a great deal of stress (8, 9 or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10).” 2

All this stress often adds up to burnout.  According to other research, burned-out parents lead to burned-out kids.  Specifically, parents who feel burned out at work are more likely to have teenage kids who experience burnout at school. 3

How Do Kids Respond to Their Stress?

Whether the source of kids’ stress is their parents’ stress or another source, kids’ response to stress is somewhat Couch Potato-esque.  Both tweens (described in this study as kids ages 8-12) and teens (in this study, kids ages 13-17) tend to use sedentary behaviors to make themselves feel better when they are worried.

. 36% of tweens and 66% of teens listen to music.

. 56% of tweens and 41% of teens play video games.

. 34% of tweens and 30% of teens watch TV. 4

Of course, there are worse ways to deal with stress, but given the rampant rates of obesity observed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (nearly one in five young people is obese), we need to offer our kids healthier stress-relieving tools.5

Action Steps:

1. Which finding of the Stress in America study is most surprising to you?

2. On a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being “highly stressed”), how stressed are you?

3. Using the same scale, how stressed are your kids?  Reflecting upon the data indicating that parents are often unaware of their kids’ stress, would you like to revise your answer?

Recommended Resources

The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family: A Leadership Fable About Restoring Sanity To The Most Important Organization In Your Life, Patrick Lencioni

Adrenaline and Stress, Archibald Hart

Silence and Solitude (Fuller Youth Institute)

Activating and Resting (Fuller Youth Institute)

1. American Psychological Association, “2010 Stress in America Report”, 

2. American Psychological Association, “2010 Stress in America Report”

3. As reported by Tara Parker-Pope, Burned out? So Are Your Kids, NY Times January 27, 2010.  Burnout in this study is defined as “feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by work and school demands, feelings of cynicism about job and school work or feeling inadequate and powerless.” 

4. American Psychological Association, “2010 Stress in America Report”

5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Childhood Overweight and Obesity”,

©2011 Fuller Youth Institute

Article was used by permission by the Fuller Youth Institute

About the author: Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute and a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Though this article was written back in 2011, many of its points are relevant to us today in the midst of a pandemic. Using the “Action Steps” above, consider how the statistics mentioned in the article above might compare to your family’s stress levels today. In Part 2 of “Help for Stressed Out Families,” Dr. Kara Powell will give suggestions on how parents can actively help their kids better handle stress.

Presence Quotient®, also known as Presence, is a Christian 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides tools and training to help individuals and families apply Christian and family values to their everyday lives. Copyright © 2011 Fuller Youth Institute. Article was used by permission by the Fuller Youth Institute. Do not repost.