Vacation time is all about relaxing on the grass and dreaming up at the stars. And then bam! Back-to-school is like a slap in the face. It’s time for packing your bags, calendars, lists, and getting out of the door on time. Even more so for your child. Stress for kids is all-consuming. A slight in the classroom, a tussle in the yard, an insult in the hallway. Don’t even get me started on expectations – those that we have of them and even more so, those they have for themselves. It all adds up to some seriously stressed-out kids. Here are some ideas I use to help my kids manage stress.
Dr Jean Clinton, a child psychiatrist at McMaster University, Canada is concerned, “Many of us are worried that the number of young people today experiencing mental health problems is on the increase.”
Life for children is stressful but it doesn’t have to be. It shouldn’t be. As parents it’s our responsibility to help our kids form good habits that will last them their entire lives. So what can we do to help our kids manage their stress and become more resilient.
Back to school is a great time to get into a fresh routine, and calming habits picked up now will help kids along in their middle and teen-years. Techniques that will channel their tremendous energies into constructive ways to deal with the social pressures, homework anxiety and everything else you know life WILL throw at them.
Activities to Help Kids Manage Stress
- Start with their schedule. Leave the extra-curricular activities to start a week later in the school year. Let kids get comfortable in the school routine before the rest of the schedule kicks in.
- Play dates are the only extras I do schedule as soon as possible with new and old friends. One-on-one friendly time to connect with friends outside of the rigor of school hours is a great stress-busting activity.
- Give children some control over their life. For the little ones perhaps as little as choosing their outfit for the day. Decide what works for your family. More flexibility for the older kids – walking to school on their own, waking up in the morning to their own alarm, making their own breakfast.
- Take a break between activities. An opportunity to relax between activities will go a long way in helping with anxiety. If dance class is right after school, what about finding a corner in the school yard to eat snack in peace? Multi-tasking is over-rated when kids are involved.
- Have you thought about creative colouring as a stress-relieving technique – and not just for the little ones. There is a lot of talk around what an amazing tool colouring is to relax the older mind. I didn’t really buy into the hype till my 9 year-old started to help her 4 year-old sister out with colouring this week. She kept going long after her little sister was done, even skipping her usual night-time reading, even continuing first thing the next morning.
- Practice mindfulness-take it easy especially the first few weeks after the start of school. This will help kids be more aware of what they eat, read, and feel.
- Get outside – skip, take the bike, go for a walk. Looking at nature always relaxes me, whether it’s early in the morning or late after dinner. With little ones make a game out of it, perhaps collecting rocks and leaves, or looking for signs of change in season.
- Deep breathing as a form of self-relaxation. This is my go-to when I see my kids struggling with a task they feel is getting the better of them. Just five deep, slow breaths will help, I promise.
- Music – Listening, playing, making, singing, all of it. Music is such a positive outlet and it helps loosen up those tense muscles and thoughts.
- Yoga on the living room carpet. That’s one of my new school year resolutions. A couple of times a week, 5 asanas with the kids is enough.
- Hang out together as a family – Whatever your schedule, whether it’s around the dinner table, in the park playing frisbee or even just playing Wii in the living room after dinner (weeknights that’s us!).
- Or not. Your child may want some alone time behind a closed door especially when there is a younger sibling in the picture and that’s OK. For older kids – “alone time” isn’t a punishment.
- Listen. Ask open-ended questions. “How was your day? How did that make you feel? That sounds like a tough day. How do you think she felt?” I love the long commutes in the car with my kids for this reason. They are forced to talk and occasionally will open up!
- Recognize the feelings. Don’t be afraid of giving the tough feelings a name. Some days we are happy, some days we are sad. Indeed, as the movie Inside Out taught me, hiding from sadness doesn’t really work because we all need to learn to face it.
- Early Bedtime helps. It’s not just for the convenience of parents who want some down time themselves even though I love the quiet after the kids are in bed. Good sleep is a great stress-buster.
Quality vs Quantity?
Dr. Clinton in the Global News report feels the emphasis should be on being present in our kids’ daily lives, though there has been much heated debate in the quality versus quantity discussion on how to spend time with your kids. It is a difficult balance to achieve.
To conclude, managing stress isn’t an issue that can be resolved in one day or even one year. In fact, we need to make these activities a part of our daily routine. I know some days our family has time for just deep breathing, another day it could be Yoga together in the backyard. Those are the days I live for.