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Regulating stress and emotions is important for parents of adolescents

A study shows parents often dole out harsher punishments when angry

Photo (c) laflor - Getty Images
Parents often struggle with children’s transition into adolescence, and this time can be fraught with stress and frustration.

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Rochester explored how parenting styles change as children mature into teens. It found that parents who have a hard time controlling their stress and anger were more likely to dish out harsher punishments on their children.

“Discipline issues usually peak during toddlerhood and then again during adolescence, because both periods are really marked by exploration and figuring out who you are, and by becoming more independent,” said researcher Melissa Sturge-Apple.

Staying calm is key

The researchers were most interested in gauging how parents control their stress during times of conflict with their children and how that stress can affect their parenting.

The study involved nearly 200 parents and their children aged 12 through 14. The researchers evaluated parents’ stress levels using RSSMD -- a reputable tool that analyzes changes in heart rate.

The biggest takeaway was that parents who are unable to control their stress or anger are more likely to be harsher in their punishments for their children over time.

A key factor in parent-children relationships was parents’ ability to adjust their temperament on the fly, which psychologists refer to as set-shifting. According to the study, mothers did better in this area than fathers, who were more inclined to believe that their children were deliberately causing conflict.

“Set shifting is important because it allows parents to alter flexibly and deliberately their approaches to handling the changeable behaviors of their children in ways that help them to resolve their disagreements,” said researcher Patrick Davies.

The researchers also found that those who were unable to set-shift were more likely to feel the effects of stress and anger physically, and this was found to be an indicator of more anger in the future.

With these findings, the researchers are hopeful that parents will be able to thoroughly prepare for future conflict with their adolescent children and better communicate with them moving forward.

“As we learn more, these findings may have important implications for building and refining parenting programs,” said Davies. “For example, there are exercises that help increase physiological regulation in ways that may ultimately reduce hostile parenting behaviors for mothers and fathers.”

It all affects children

Everything parents do affects children in one way or another, and there are countless factors that influence parenting styles. While moms may be under more stress than dads, a study found that children could be performing poorly at school based on harsh parenting at home.

“In our study, harsh parenting was related to lower educational attainment through a set of complex cascading processes that emphasized present-oriented behaviors at the cost of future-oriented educational goals,” said lead author Rochelle F. Hentges.

On a more positive note, researchers have found that strong parent-child relationships can be beneficial for children fighting stress through adolescence and their teenage years.

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