Health & Science

How to focus on what you can control as a parent

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Parents are facing challenges on all fronts these days — from skyrocketing costs ahead of the upcoming holidays to surging child respiratory infections. Uncertainty about the future can combine with anxiety about challenging circumstances in the present to create unmanageable stress. The key to managing those big feelings is to focus on what you can control — and this skill is especially important for parents.

Worrying about things outside your control only makes anxiety worse because it doesn’t do anything to reduce your stress or fix the problem. On the other hand, identifying the parts of each stressful situation that you have the power to do something about — even if it’s something small — can relieve some of the uncertainty. It helps put you back in control of addressing the problem, which can lower stress and anxiety. 

Try to let go of worrying about things you can’t control, such as —

  • What other people feel or think;
  • Surging illnesses in the community;
  • Other people’s behavior, including your child’s;
  • What other people post online;
  • Your child’s effort, grades, or willingness to listen;
  • Scary or frustrating news, politics, personal interactions, etc.

Instead, focus on the parts of each situation that you can control, like —

  • Your internal dialogue with yourself and your attitude;
  • The activities you provide for your kids while they’re at home;
  • Taking measures to keep your family safe and healthy;
  • Whether you ask for help or support from others;
  • Your own behavior and reactions;
  • What you engage with online;
  • Setting boundaries and letting others know what you expect;
  • Your physical activity level; 
  • How you spend your free time.

Making time for self-care and being intentional about the ways you spend your time and interact with both yourself and others can help you manage your stress by focusing on what you can control. The ability to focus on what you can control as a parent is also a powerful skill to model for your kids as they grow and face challenges of their own. 

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.