Children are highly susceptible to the influence of external factors, such as the situation in the family and the emotional state of their parents. Stress is contraindicated in pregnant women because it could affect the development of an embryo and even lead to a miscarriage. The research question is concerned with how the stress of parents affects their children. The author of the present assignment ventures a hypothesis that stress per se does not affect children; instead, stress affects the way parents behave. This, in turn, negatively affects their children’s psychological stability and health. In the current paper, the author analyses literature dedicated to parents stress and children’s development and behavior and tests the previously mentioned hypothesis.
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Being a parent is the great happiness and a challenge at the same time. Apart from personal issues and problems at work, parents have to make decisions on “effective parenting strategies, managing child behavior, financial responsibilities, health concerns, educational responsibilities, and scheduling conflicts” (Cappa, 2011, p. 334). Some parents are more successful in coping with these tasks than others, and, hence, they experience a smaller level of stress. According to Deater-Deckard (2008), parenting stress manifests itself through anxiety and emotional pain. Parenting stress is also caused by “financial stress, excessive use of phone, ideological differences, study, career, and conflicting values” (Suvidha, Gera, and Gangwar, 2021, p. 7027). There are numerous research papers that discuss the role of stress in the cognitive development, and mental and physical health of children. In the academic community, there is a consensus that the stress of parents is closely associated with psychological and physical problems of children.
The topic of the effects of parents stress on children is broad and could be divided into several parts. Therefore, the present literature review presents a discussion of articles on the effects of a mother’s stress on a fetus, and the effects of parents stress on infants, toddlers, and children from 5 to 12 years old. The part of the literature review is also dedicated to discussing how the stress of parents affects adolescents. The author of the present paper believes that it is essential to investigate the relationships between the behavior of parents and teenagers because this period heavily affects the process of becoming a person.
Effects of Stress During Pregnancy
It is common knowledge that the health status of a newborn directly relates to the nutrition, physical activity, illnesses, and emotional condition of the mother. That is why a high level of stress is one of the most dangerous factors. The study conducted by Van den Bergh et al. (2020) reveals that a high level of stress in pregnant women is the cause of disorders in the development of specific brain areas such as amygdalae and the prefrontal cortex. These parts of the brain are responsible for detecting stressful or potentially life-threatening situations and the expression of anxiety and fear. In addition to that, a mother’s stress negatively influences the stress and immune systems of her child (Van den Bergh et al., 2020). This study is based on the analysis of almost 100 academic articles on the effects of prenatal stress on offspring behavior published during the last ten years.
Aizer, Stroud, and Buka (2016) come to the same conclusions as Van den Bergh et al. (2020). Aizer et al. (2016) also add that frequent stay in stressful situations raises the hormone cortisol in a mother’s blood. This, in turn, increases the probability of not only cognitive, behavioral, educational, and health problems but also the weight and head circumference of a child (Aizer et al., 2016; Su et al., 2015). The results of Aizer et al. (2016) are based on the observation of almost 1000 pregnant women and their children, whereas Su et al. (2015) examine only 142 mothers and their babies. Nonetheless, the size of the sample does not mean that the results of the research are misleading. Finally, a mother should avoid stressful life events if she wants to protect her child from neuropsychiatric disorders, including seizures, palsies, attention deficit disorders, and headaches (Hantsoo et al., 2019). From the written above, it could be inferred that mood of a mother and the absence of stress, anxiety, and depression in her life during the gestation period plays a vital role in the proper development and health of a future child.
Effects of Parents Stress on Infants, Toddlers, and Children
The behavior and mental health of children from 1 to 4 years old depend on interaction with the parents and the emotional condition of the latter. Data provided by the prospective cohort study of Hattangadi et al. (2020), where 148 children were analyzed, reveals that mental health problems of 3-year-old children are provoked by stress experienced by “parenting stress during infancy” (p. 1). The stress of parents destroys the proper development of a child because “parents under stress are less likely to be engaged, more irritable and distant with their young children” (Hattangadi et al., 2020, p. 4). Neece et al. (2012) also conducted a range of cross-lagged panel analyses and discovered that 93 out of 237 observed children have behavioral issues caused by parenting stress. Neece et al. (2012) have the same explanation as Hattangadi et al. (2020) on why parenting stress is detrimental for children. More precisely, they argue that parents’ stress causes marital conflict and less effective parenting (Neece et al., 2012; Kersh et al., 2006; Coldwell, Pike, and Dunn, 2006).
Therefore, children, especially ones at a young age, are highly vulnerable, and their cognitive development and physical and mental health could be easily destroyed by unfavorable living conditions, including the stress of parents and quarrels. As Thompson (2014) puts it, violence and scarcity of resources in the world where a child was born to provoke neurobiological changes that might not only make a child vigilant and cautious. Such changes could also become a reason for his or her problems with controlling emotions, communicating with peers, and focusing attention (Thompson, 2014). From the perspective of family systems theory, interactions between parents and a child affect the emotional development of the latter (Frankel et al., 2015). Consequently, if parents cannot cope with stress and separate between work and family life, there is a high probability that they will harm their children.
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The stress of parents affects not only the mental but also the physical health of children. Even though a significantly smaller number of scholars investigate relations between the stress of parents and children’s physical health, there are some convincing studies. Walton et al. (2014) gathered “cross-sectional data from 110 parent-child dyads participating in a community-based parenting intervention” (p. 1). This data reveals that children whose parents are highly stressed tend to have lower daily physical activity levels and spend more time watching TV than children whose parents are experiencing less stress (Walton et al., 2014).
However, whereas Walton et al. (2014) and Guilfoyle, Zeller, and Modi (2010) report that the stress of parents could not be regarded as a factor that leads to pediatric obesity, Frontini, Moreira, and Canavarro (2016) state that mothers of obese children are more stressed. Still, this contradiction resembles the egg and chicken dilemma because it is not clear whether a mother’s stress leads to the obesity of a child or vice versa. Nonetheless, an analysis of 223 couples of mothers and children conducted by Frontini et al. (2016) illustrates that parenting stress reduces the quality of life of children and leads to a more permissive parenting style. The same conclusion was made by the previously mentioned Guilfoyle et al. (2010). The analysis of “120 caregivers and their youth” enables Guilfoyle et al. (2010) to claim that even though parenting stress does not affect the body mass index, it predicts the quality of life-related to obesity. In other words, parenting stress affects children’s eating habits and physical activity which are the cornerstones of proper development.
Effects of Parents Stress on Adolescents
One might argue that adolescents are less vulnerable than children because their psyche has already formed. Nevertheless, the mental well-being of children could also be heavily affected by the quality of relationships with parents and caregivers that, in its turn, depends on the stress of the latter. Common sense suggests that it does not matter whether a child is 5 or 15 years old, attention to the parents, communication with them, and the absence of strong marital conflicts at home are indispensable components of a child’s psychological health.
The feelings of teenagers could be compared to bare wires. Adolescents tend to overreact, ignore the recommendations of adults, and share emotions with them. One of the derivatives of parents stress is marital conflicts, and children inadvertently suffer from them. Bambino (2015) and Suvidha et al. (2021) write that parent-child relationships are more adverse in families where adolescents frequently witness negative marital conflict. In addition to that, conflicts between parents contribute to the increased feeling of sadness and loneliness in adolescents (Bambino, 2015). What is more, after the observation of “108 families with 8-to 16-year-old children”, Cummings, Goeke-Morey, and Papp (2004) discovered that marital conflicts increase the probability of depression in teenagers (p. 191). From this, it could be inferred that parenting stress could still become a catalyst for problems among teenagers. Gordon and Hinshaw (2017) note that parenting stress raises the probability of a child’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, the good news is that there are no statistically significant proofs that parenting stress increases the likelihood of a suicide attempt (Gordon and Hinshaw, 2017).
Talking about teenagers, it should be noted that sometimes their problem causes vast stress of parents, not vice versa. For example, adolescents that, for some reason, are prone to nonsuicidal self-injury contribute to the rise the stress on their parents because their injuries turn into the increased expenses on psychological counseling, medication, hospitalization, and fears for the well-being of a child (Fu et al., 2020). Furthermore, parents are ready to satisfy all the wants of a teenager if only it could help him or her to stop hurting themselves (Fu et al., 2020). Hence, this article presents a curious case because it shows that children might provoke parenting stress, and it is parents who significantly suffer from stress.
Undoubtedly, it is impossible to eradicate parenting stress completely. Nonetheless, it is essential not to ignore the challenging situation and fix it as soon as possible because it could help save a teenager’s emotional well-being. For this reason, Suvidha et al. (2021) recommend discussing the internal problems of a family with a specialist. Besides, it is effective to establish a tradition of spending some time with teenagers because it is crucial for them even though sometimes, they behave abominably.
The conducted literature review shows that there is consensus on how badly the stress of parents affects children in the academic community. At the same time, there are some topics on parenting stress that remain poorly covered. More precisely, it is interesting to know whether negative changes in the psychological health of a child caused by parenting stress are reversible or not. In other words, none of the studies considered above discusses what will happen if parents manage to decrease their daily stress or reduce the frequency of marital conflicts.
The second topic that remains understudied is how to reduce the level of parenting stress. Cappa (2011), Deater-Deckard (2008), and Suvidha et al. (2021) devote a lot of attention to the explanation of the causes of parenting stress but barely mention how to cope with it. It is fair to notice that Suvidha et al. (2021) write that families should resolve their conflicts because it is necessary for the emotional stability of children and family members. Nonetheless, there are no precise recommendations on how to decrease the level of stress and cope with parenting responsibilities more effectively.
The final point to be noticed is that it remains unclear why different fetuses, toddlers, children, and teenagers react to parenting stress differently. For example, Cummings et al. (2004) analyzed 108 families where parents report stress. However, Cummings et al. (2004) do not explain why some children suffer from parenting stress more stronger than others. This way, it is curious to know what factors affect the differences in children’s responses to the stress of parents, tense relationships between them, financial problems, and other unfavorable factors.
The conducted literature review answers the research question on how the stress of parents affects their children. Numerous articles, some of which are presented in the current paper, show that parenting stress is a cause of mental retardation, psychological and physical health problems, and difficulties with socialization. The information presented above proves that it is essentially important for the parents not to put their children into stressful life situations, to spend enough time with them, and prevent them from witnessing marital conflicts. Besides, the literature review proves the hypothesis ventured in the introduction that stress per se is not harmful; instead, the danger for children lies in the fact that parenting stress could make some adults more aggressive, irritable, depressed, or anxious. Based on the discussion section, the author believes that it is essential to broaden the research questions beyond the borders of the effects of stress on the health of children of different ages. Therefore, future research could target different reactions to parenting stress, effective ways of dealing with it or search for ways to reverse the negative effects of parenting stress.
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Cummings, E. M., Goeke-Morey, M. C., & Papp, L. M. (2004). Everyday marital conflict and child aggression. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 32(2), 191-202. Web.
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