When traveling by plane, we have all heard flight attendants tell us that in an emergency you should put an oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on your child. This is to ensure the adult’s safety so they can take care of the child accompanying them.

Parents tend to instinctively place their child’s well-being before their own. But what happens when a parent does not take care of themselves first?

Stress is an emotional response to the demands of life such as bills, school, work, taking care of children, and all the additional curve balls that life throws our way. Stress affects everyone differently, and it’s important to remember that not all stress is bad. However, long term stress can negatively affect your health as well as the health of your children.

The number one stress-related mental health diagnosis is anxiety. Parental stress causes increased behavioral issues in children and can lead to poor performance in school. It can also result in children using less expressive language, having poor social skills, experiencing more mental health struggles, and having a harder time coping with change.

During my time as a Youth First Social Worker, I have noticed that the behaviors of parents and guardians struggling with large amounts of stress are often mirrored by their children. For example, when parents are experiencing depression or undergoing tough times, their children may experience lack of motivation in school, poor grades, and often appear more tired. Some parents experiencing anxiety have children with anxious behaviors such as lack of control over emotions, lack of sleep, and frequent stomach aches.

Understanding your stressors and prioritizing self-care can help create a better environment and healthy lifestyle for you and your child. Practicing and teaching your child effective self-care is very important as they grow and mature throughout their life. Children absorb and learn from your habits.

Parents and guardians can help their child overcome stress by modeling positive habits. Examples of self-care include exercising, taking a longer shower, finding a new hobby, prioritizing sleep, replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk, and reaching out for support if necessary.

Help your child identify their emotions and let them know it’s okay to feel the way they do. This allows them to learn healthy ways to react to those emotions when they arise. Topics children find stressful may seem trivial when compared to our adult stressors, but acknowledging a child’s stress is important for the child to feel heard and understood.

In the happiest of our childhood memories, our parents were happy too! Putting yourself first as a parent is not as selfish as it sounds. Committing to habits of self-care can create a better well-being for yourself and a positive future for your child.

Camryn Cater, MSW, is a Youth First Social Worker at Scott Elementary School in Vanderburgh County. Youth First, Inc. is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families. Youth First provides 78 Master’s level social workers to 105 schools in 12 Indiana counties. Over 60,000 youth and families per year are served by Youth First’s school social work and after school programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success. To learn more about Youth First, visit youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.