Does Stress affect my baby?

Student Parents looks into what effect too much university work for you could have on your child.

Studying can be stressful enough without having to worry about what its doing to your child as well, but the fact is, our stresses can influence a child’s behavioural development. When it comes to exam time, or if a deadline is looming, most students only have to worry about themselves. Student parents, however, could be stressing out their child as well.

The figures:

A report released in January by the American Psychological Association found that 91% of children know when their parents are stressed from their behaviour.

Out of thousands of 5- 12 year olds asked about this in a survey, many recognised changes in the parents, such as shouting, breaking down and distancing themselves from the child. They also asked the children how this made them feel.

The report found 13% of children felt scared when their parent or parents were stressed, and 31% were frustrated. But most of all, the children felt sad or worried, with 39% of 2,596 children admitting to this.

Some psychologists think stress can affect children from a younger age. Due to the nature of the survey, the children could be no younger than 5 so that they were able to understand and answer the questions. However, Dr. Michelle Barba, a leading child expert in America said ‘Children younger than 5 will most likely have similar reactions to stressed parents, they are just unable to understand why they are feeling what they feel.’

Other studies from APA say most teenagers with drug problems come from a disruptive family background.

What can I do about it?

As worrying as this all sounds, Student Parents spoke to Caroline McKintosh, a councillor from Harley Therapy in London, who gave some advice on how to cope with study stress.

“There are a number of things I would say to student parents who worry about stress. Firstly, while this information is good to know, don’t dwell on it. That is not going to help your child.

“Make sure you have a good support system and somebody to talk to if you are stressed. If you don’t feel you can talk to family or friends, most universities will have some sort of support or advice centre.

Always remember to breathe. If you feel like everything is getting on top of you, just give yourself a bit of time to relax. You will not get anything done when you feel tense. Lie down for 5 minutes; go for a walk with your child. If you feel you need to, choose to take the whole day off. It will make you so much more productive if you go back to your work with a clear mind.

The most important thing to know is that you are not alone. Two thirds of the patients I now see are mothers who have a job and a young child. After pregnancy, your hormones are all over the place, and trying to be the breadwinner and a parent is stressful for anyone. Studying has the extra stress of fear of failure or getting a bad mark. You are not a bad parent or student for feeling you cannot cope. Speak to someone about your problems would always be the best advice.”

For help on managing stress, visit:


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