Group Programme / Module 5 Managing our stress

When things in the outside world cause us to become aroused, our brain perceives a threat or danger.  This activates the survival functions in our brain stem.  For our ancestors it may have been a charging sabre-tooth tiger; for us today it may be a very sick or unhappy, screaming baby.  Parenting is a demanding role and all parents experience stress at times.  To take care of their child, parents need to take care of themselves too.

Objectives

  • Understand how stress and the brain are linked.
  • Identify stressors and their possible causes.
  • Develop strategies for keeping calm during parenting challenges.

Process 

Our brain’s job is to keep us in balance — not just physically, but also emotionally. It helps us self-regulate, which is our ability to tolerate or control our stressors. 

In a newborn, only the brain stem is fully wired. It only has two ‘zone of arousal’ levels — either ‘overwhelmed’, or ‘content’. When parents respond quickly to baby’s distress and help bring them back to calm, they’re helping to start the process of learning to self-regulate. 

Adult brains have a wider range of arousal states. We can be happy, sad, angry, glad, scared, excited, frustrated and upset. Most of us can self-regulate — our more developed brain systems can work through these states. 

We shouldn’t need to have a tantrum because we’re hungry, thirsty or tired. We also have the skills and knowledge to meet our own needs, for example:

  • ‘I’m hungry — I’ll eat something.’
  • ‘I’m worried — I’ll ring my sister and talk about my worries.’
  • ‘I’m uncomfortable — I’ll investigate the cause.’ 

When things in the outside world cause us to become aroused, our brain perceives a threat or danger. This activates the survival functions in our brain stem. For our ancestors it may have been a charging sabre-tooth tiger; for us today it may be a very sick or unhappy, screaming baby. 


Resources

SKIP resources

Other resources 

  • Early days DVD
  • Well Child/Tamariki Ora My health book
    • Looking after yourself (p. 172)
    • Partners are needed too (p. 178) 
  • Hitting behaviour (handout) 

YouTube clips and websites 

Self-regulation and brain development (1), Dr Regalena Melrose

 Self-regulation and brain development (2), Dr Regalena Melrose

 Home visiting pages 

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