“Kids are mood detectives,” says Michael Grose, co-author of the new parenting book, Anxious Kids. “Anxiety and emotions are contagious.”
In other words, your state of mind could rub off on your children. That’s a scary prospect given that our workplaces are getting more stressful than ever before. In research by the recruitment firm Robert Half, three quarters of Australian CFOs think their employee stress levels will rise over the next three years due to growing workloads, increased business expectations and shorter deadlines.
That’s bad news for your inner zen warrior. But unless you learn to cage your rage about your idiot boss, you could transmit your tension onto your family.
“Kids will take their cues from our own emotional response,” Grose explains. “So when we’re stressed, they become stressed, too, because they pick it up from us.
“If you’re a bit of a worrier or often become stressed, then you need to deal with that. We need to learn how to relax ourselves so that when we’re around our kids, we’ve dealt with our own stresses so that it doesn’t affect them as well.”
When you’re bringing your job stress home with you, Grose calls it “negative spill-over”. And he believes that men often find it harder to leave their work woes at the office.
“A lot of blokes when they’ve had a bad day at work, they’ll often come home and kick the cat because they haven’t dealt with it.”
So how do you stop your work stress invading your home life? Grose recommends adopting a strategy that involves finding your “third space”.
Essentially, this is like creating your own personal decompression chamber. You need to find a space where you can mentally reset before wading back into the chaos of screaming kids, frantic energy and loud noise (AKA domestic life). Your goal is to temporarily put a lid on your work stress to stop it from infecting your family.
“Where’s your third space?” Grose asks. “Is it sitting on the train on the way home from work having a read and just trying to relax? Or is it going to the gym before you get home? Or simply taking a walk?
“Finding your third space is a very therapeutic thing. It enables us to deal with whatever we’ve got going on and to switch modes before returning home.”
It’s particularly necessary when you consider the breakdown of your average day. Your job, after all, takes up most of your waking hours, so when you’re finally at home with your children then you need to make the time count.
“We can be physically with our kids, but mentally we’re often somewhere else,” Grose says. “So we’ve really got to be conscious of the fact that during the short period of time that we’re at home, we’re going to just focus on their needs and the family needs. Then, when they’re in bed, you can deal with the work stuff later on.”
“It’s a skill of resilience to be able to park your bad stuff for a while and then pick it up later when you can deal with it.”
It’s also a skill more urgently needed than ever. Our “always on” work culture makes it harder to escape the barrage of office emails and messages even when we’re supposedly off-duty. But if you don’t impose your own restrictions, then no one else will.
“These are disciplines we’ve got to put into our lives,” Grose says. “Now that we all live these 24/7 lives it’s easy for work to get all mixed up with family. It’s important to recognise those boundaries and put things in place.”
Anxious Kids: How Children Can Turn Their Anxiety Into Resilience
is out now