How Your Stress Affects Your Child’s Behavior and Development


“Children are the mirror image of their parents” — is an old German proverb. The pediatrician and author Remo Largo wrote, “A child is biologically inclined to model its behavior after examples.” Since the 1990s, scientists have attributed this to so-called mirror neurons, specialized nerve cells in the brain responsible for imitating movements and sounds. It’s now understood that, as social beings, we humans imitate each other and develop empathy, with mirror neurons potentially playing a role in this process. Whether with or without mirror neurons, children, like adults, mimic the gestures and expressions of those around them.

In the early years of life, parents are the closest caregivers to their children and thus have a significant influence on their behavior. Children naturally look up to their parents and adopt habits, moods, and behavior patterns from them, shaping their character and ultimately their life. Although children bring certain traits with them through their genes, many behavioral issues have their roots in the parent-child relationship.

Children learn a lot from how you behave in various situations, including your physical posture. How do you handle everyday problems? How do you behave in situations that push you to your limits (and yes, children love to test this 😉 )? How do you live out your relationship with the other parent at home (with joy, stress, equality…)?

A good example of the influence of parents on their children is provided by visits to the pediatrician: A mother’s tension and nervousness in the doctor’s office are often reflected in the child’s behavior. Parents might be anxious about how the child will react to the examination or are worried about the diagnosis. This tension is communicated through body posture, breathing rate, skin tension, and the parents’ gestures or tone of voice, sending the message “danger.” The child picks up on this and may cry, resist the examination, and be difficult to calm down afterwards.

A vicious cycle can quickly develop: Your tension makes the child nervous, which in turn makes you even more tense. So, what can be done?

Many adults have been living with psychological unrest, fears, and imbalance for so long that these have become unnoticed parts of their lives and personalities. These stresses are often reflected in their body posture, such as unconsciously raising their shoulders when anxious or stressed.

How do you generally feel? Can you consider yourself a relaxed person? Are you stressed or feel overwhelmed in your role as a mother or father? How often and how willingly do you laugh in your daily life? Do you know resources you can rely on when you feel drained, resources that can rebuild you and give you strength and energy? These can help you physically straighten up as well.

If your child often reacts aggressively or fearfully in certain situations, it might be worthwhile to examine your own well-being. This isn’t easy and can be painful: Not all parents are immediately willing to admit that a child’s posture or behavioral issues may stem from their own problems.

In practice, it sometimes turns out that when children come to therapy to improve their physical posture, it would actually be more beneficial to work on the posture and some habits of the parents… However, many lack understanding for this.

Parents want to be perfect role models, but this aspiration might be contributing to their constant tension: You’ve tried so hard to do everything right with your children, reading books, discussing with other parents, and researching the best parenting methods online.

It’s worth taking a closer look, as recognizing your own posture and how you deal with stress is the first step to more calmness and a more balanced life, both in your own and in your child’s life. If you, as an adult, improve your behavior and physical posture and generally approach life with more calmness, your children will partly adopt these traits from you (hopefully).

One way to work on achieving more calmness and an upright posture as an adult is my Qi Gong course available on Udemy as an online course –  or simply book an appointment in my practice 🙂