Fatherhood and healthy behaviors for families
It is important to recognize the increasing demands of parenthood. Most parents, including fathers, experience stress. From worrying about finances to shuttling children from school to sports practice, parents often feel overwhelmed by responsibilities. According to the 2010 APA Stress in America survey, while parents report similar sources of stress as the rest of the population (80 percent cite money, 72 percent cite work and 72 percent cite the economy as stressors), many also report that family responsibilities are a significant source of stress (73 percent), In fact, according to the APA survey, while parents understood the importance of managing their stress (69 percent say managing stress is important), it seems that only a small percentage believe they are actually managing it successfully, with 32 percent reporting that they are doing an excellent or very good job of managing that stress.
People often manage their stress in unhealthy ways by smoking, drinking, and overeating. For parents, this is particularly dangerous because their behaviors serve as models for their children. For example, research into the growing adolescent obesity epidemic shows that parents’ behaviors, attitudes and feeding styles around food influence their child’s eating patterns. Fathers and mothers who have unhealthy eating patterns due to stress may be putting their children at risk for emulating their poor stress coping styles. Similarly, parents’ substance use often influences the rate at which teens take up these unhealthy habits. Contrastingly, parents who have healthy eating habits and who manage their stress by exercising, for example, present positive models for their children to follow. Fathers particularly play an important role in shaping the behaviors, both good and bad, of their young children, adolescents, and teens.
While being a positive role model and managing stress in healthy ways can be a challenging task, fathers can take many different kinds of small steps to start living a physically and psychologically healthy life for themselves and their children. After working a long day, it can be tempting to relax on the couch instead of talking with your children. However, being active and spending time with your children can help you promote healthy habits in your family. Physical activity prompts the release of endorphins, which give your body a natural energy boost and can reduce the toxic effects of stress. Going on a family walk or bike ride, playing catch with your son or daughter, or taking your children on hike in your community will help reduce your stress and model the importance of a healthy lifestyle in your children. Through these activities, you may also find that you have more energy to model these good behaviors for your children.
If you are still feeling overwhelmed by your stress, talking to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, may help. Practicing psychologists use evidence-based treatments to help people manage their stressors and improve their lives. There are many different approaches to stress management, but a psychologist will choose the type that best fits your characteristics and preferences. To find a psychologist in your area, visit the Psychologist Locator.
American Psychological Association (2010). “Stress in America Survey”.
Ackard, D.M., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Story, M., & Perry, C. (2006). “Parent-Child Connectedness and Behavioral and Emotional Health Among Adolescents.” American Journal of Preventative Medicine, Vol. 30, pp. 59-66.
Raskin White, H., Johnson, V. & Buyske, S. (2000). “Parental modeling and parenting behavior effects on offspring alcohol and cigarette use: a growth curve analysis.” Journal of Substance Abuse, Vol. 12, pp. 287-310.
Thanks to psychologists David J. Palmiter, Jr., PhD, ABPP and Ron Palomares, PhD who assisted with this article.