Developed by Bryan Adcock, Child and Family Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension. Revised January 2000 and February 2001 by Lucy Schrader, Building Strong Families Program Coordinator Brenda Procter, Consumer and Family Economics State Specialist. In consultation with Dr. Kent Noel Biofeedback Services Coordinator

Relationship to Building Strong Families
Stress is natural, necessary and inevitable. Stress is a response to change or conflict, usually considered to be negative and harmful if the stress is not addressed or relieved in some fashion. It is also true that not all stress is bad. Stress can be pleasant “when it’s induced by a business triumph, a great athletic victory, marriage, the birth of a child, or similar happy events (Goodloe, Bensahel, Kelly, 1984).”

It is important for the family unit and each individual within that unit to understand stress and how to deal with it effectively. Dealing with stressful situations in the family ultimately becomes the responsibility of the family members. If a family is to remain strong, each member needs to recognize stress within the family, its causes, and how to effectively handle it.

Brief program description
Stress is a major issue for American families today. It is important to understand the dynamics of stress within the family. A family is an intertwined system; what affects one member affects all other members. If one member is ill, the others are affected. One family member experiencing stress sends ripples through the entire family. Everyone in the family is a different individual and brings his or her own personality and stressors into the family system. Situations that are stressful for one person may have very little effect on another person.

This module provides family members the opportunity to recognize some indicators of stress and stressors in their lives, information to identify the signs and symptoms of stress within the family unit, and ideas for positive ways to eliminate or reduce stress. Participants will spend time during the session practicing stress reduction techniques. They will write a goal to address how to reduce stress in the family.

Research findings
There are almost as many research classifications and definitions for stress as there are models of cars. Some of the types of stresses are emotional stress, physical stress, financial stress, job/executive stress and family stress. Unlike the other types of stress, family stress has been largely ignored until recently. Wesley R. Burr, Shirley R. Klein and Associates examined past theories on family stress and compared this research to the families of today. The ability to be resilient in highly stressful times was addressed in their 1994 edition of Reexamining Family Stress.

They found that families who experienced extreme amounts of stress grew and gained insight into the stressful situations they were experiencing. They noted that the individuals and families they studied became stronger as they experienced the stressful events in their lives. They were able to work through the stressful situations successfully. Families were able to appreciate the calm periods in their lives when they were stress free or experienced less stress.

In our society things change rapidly. With change comes stress. Today’s family structure is changing drastically. The institution of marriage can be a strong, supportive force that helps family members cope with stressors as a unit. However, a large number of marriages will end in divorce and many children will spend a part of their lives with only one parent. Learning to deal with these changes creates opportunities for families to become stronger and more resilient, or they can become weakened and less able to cope.

Families go through various stages of stress even if divorce is not a factor. The birth of a child places new demands on the family. The desire for teenagers to become independent can lead to stress between the parent and the teenager. In addition, families must adapt as the teenager passes through adolescence to adulthood and moves away. Often the most stressful times occurs when a family experiences a variety of demanding events at the same time. Serious, isolated stressful events and stressful situations that pile up call for creative planning to master family stress. It is the flexible and resourceful family that meets the challenge of stress head on and is able to adapt to changes that will be effective.

Goals and objectives

  • To define stress and identify stressors;
  • To recognize physical and emotional reactions to stress;
  • To identify warning signs of stress;
  • To practice techniques to eliminate or reduce stress;
  • To set personal goals to deal with stress.

Target audience
Working families with children

If you have any questions or need information, contact:

Kathy Dothage
Building Strong Families Program Coordinator
University of Missouri Extension
1205 University Avenue, Ste. 400
Columbia, MO 65211

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Last updated: 05/16/2017
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