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Dealing with stress

Parental Stress

Alisha M. Hardman, Extension Graduate Student — Family Resiliency

Reviewed by Rose Allen, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency.

Family stress is often influenced or moderated by parental stress. As such, it is important that parents take action to manage the amount of stress the family is experiencing. There are a couple strategies or responses that parents can use to moderate family stress.

Parental Coping

These are the specific efforts that parents use to manage a stressor or crisis event. Coping strategies may be healthy or unhealthy, but either way are used as ways to cope with stress. Strategies include:

Parental Adaptation

This is the ability of parents or other family members to recover from stress and crisis. Recovery may occur either through the elimination or reduction of stress which allows the family to return to their regular patterns or through the family’s ability to adjust to the new circumstance and regain stability.

Why Is My Family So Stressed?

Within the family system, stress is defined as pressure or tension that leads to change. Family crisis or stress is the result of the interaction of three factors:

The Nature of the Stressor

Stressors or stress events can be divided into three types:

The Family’s Potential Available Resources

Resources are the potential strengths that individuals and families have that can be used to cope with stressors

The more resources that you have to draw from, the less likely you are to experience the unpleasant effects of stress.

The Meaning or Definition that the Family Assigns the Stressor

The meaning the family attributes to the stressful event determines whether they experience the crisis or stressor as positive, negative, or neutral. An identical event or stressor may result in different responses from different family members.

The Effects of Parental Stress

Parental stress impacts both individuals and family relationships. Parental stress tends to spill over into child rearing, contributing to parents being less responsive and affectionate toward their children. This decline in the quality of parenting may lead to a variety of negative children’s outcomes, such as:

Less distressed parents tend to be more responsive, warm, rational, and moderate in the kinds of control they use with children. Child characteristics associated with such parenting practices include:

The degree of stress a family experiences is highly dependent on the stressors, environment, and individuals involved.


McKenry, P. C. & Price, S. J. (2005). Families coping with change: A conceptual overview. In P. C. McKenry & S. J. Price Families and change: Coping with stressful events and transitions (3rd ed., pp. 1-24).

Peterson, G. W. & Hennon, C. B. (2005). Conceptualizing parental stress with family stress theory. In P. C. McKenry & S. J. Price Families and change: Coping with stressful events and transitions (3rd ed., pp. 25-48).

Related resources

Common Stresses for Parents of TeensIowa State University Extension — Find ways to manage new conflicts and stressors that develop as the parent-child relationship changes during the teen years. Part of the Stress: Taking Charge series.

Disaster recovery — Even if resources were "stable" before, families often need new or additional resources following a disaster.

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