Stress Management in 2020 and Beyond Part 2
Parents are role models for their children when it comes to teaching life skills, including how to manage stress. Stress Management – Part 1 addressed factors that can help mitigate stress. Part 2 consists of how to help create more peace within the family, which in turn leads to less stress at home.
#9- Keep a Routine. Structure, routine, and predictability provides children with a sense of security and stability. Adults benefit from routine as well. This doesn’t mean that every day has to be exactly the same, but structuring the day is a great way to help communicate and manage expectations of everyone at home and allows you to build in the activities that you prioritize. Younger children and kids with a shorter attention span often need breaks in between activities or be allowed a change of activity approximately every 45 minutes. In general, it is best if the less preferred activities (usually schoolwork and chores) are scheduled before children are allowed free and play time (often comprised of non-academic screen time), as this mirrors adult life- we all have to work before we get paid. It is easier to tell a child “when” they can do what they want than it is to tell them to get off the video game and clean up their room. Keep some sort of structure and schedule on weekends/non-school days including a sleep schedule that is shifted no more than an hour later.
Of course, you will still need to be flexible when things come up, such as a sleepover, last-minute cancellation or opportunity, change in weather or illness. Last weekend I had the perfect Saturday scheduled (reading, making salads for the week, writing, walking outside), but then I had to spend a few hours in the ER when my son flew off his bicycle. Be flexible and adjust your expectations at these times. Showing your children how you prioritize and then manage unpredictability is a good way to teach them how to be flexible. (Oh well… guess I can’t walk today)
#10- Adjust Expectations. The world has changed, and our expectations of ourselves and others need to change in kind. Maybe you can’t do as much as you could in 2019 with the kids doing virtual school at home. Maybe your children have a lot of extra energy without their usual afternoon sports or social activities. Plan your new normal and talk to your family about what they need or what they find to be overwhelming. Have everyone in the family make a list of their priorities and what they think are the priorities and expectations of others. Have a non-judgmental discussion about this with the goal of getting everyone in the house on the same page. Make sure it is clear what the new expectations are, realizing that everyone may need to compromise. Where did you put “have a clean house” on your list of priorities? Did it even make the list of your children or your partner/spouse? Maybe it would be okay if beds weren’t made or toys were still on the floor for the time being.
#11- Balance Activities. Most of us are on screens all day for work and school. And then we have leisure activities on screens as well- TV, social media, video games. Instead of focusing on how many hours your child has been on a screen, focus on scheduling daily non-screen related activities. Again, this goes for adults as well as children. Some examples:
- Outdoor time in nature- you can do a nature-oriented activity like gardening, or do your physical activity, reading, meditation or hobby outdoors when possible
- Physical activity- walk, bike, scooter, toss a ball or frisbee, build an obstacle course with things around the house or yard, follow an exercise video, make up a contest or goal with your kids (if this fits their personality)- how many sit-ups can they do in a minute? How long can you hold a plank? Can you even get into plank position? Help them build their own goals to strive towards if they like challenge.
- Game time- board and card games, Lego-building contests, play hide-and-seek with a household object (we used a water bottle) in 1 or 2 rooms where part of the object has to be visible without moving anything. Or hide the object completely and use “hot/cold” to help find it.
- Quiet reading or audiobook time; read to your children for as long as they will let you, even after they are capable of reading themselves (not referring to hours of reading to delay bedtime, referring to enjoying stories together until they no longer want to do this with you). Consider reading or listening to joke books or relaxation techniques together
- Cook or bake together. If your child likes to cook and you have ingredients that are about to expire, challenge your child to a game of “chopped”.
- Listen to music. Dance (but don’t embarrass your kids too much).
- Spiritual time, meditation or yoga time
- Creative time- art, writing, building, let your kids make something out of the extra Amazon boxes that are piling up and duct tape. If you are not very creative, look on Pinterest for ideas of craft and science activities with kids
Ask your children what activities they would like to do and add them to the routine/schedule. Or write them on a piece of paper, put them in a jar and pick one at random. Or rotate daily and let another family member pick the activity to do during the scheduled time
#12- Emotion Management. Not everyone manages emotions the same way, and what works for parents don’t necessarily work for their children. Some people like more physical outlets such as exercise, dance, hitting a pillow, or muscle relaxation. Other people manage emotions best by talking things over with friends or family, journaling or listening to music. The goal is to find what works best for you and help your child find what works best for them.
Sometimes children may not be able to express their emotions verbally, rather they demonstrate their feelings behaviorally such as by having a tantrum or shutting down. In this case, start by helping your child recognize and label the emotion. By labeling the emotion, you are externalizing it. Once you name the emotion and make it separate from your child, you can then work through how to process the emotion using descriptive language. How can they cool down that volcano? How can they talk back to the “worry bully”? Two psychologists who have great books and websites with helpful information for parents on helping their kids manage emotions are: tamarchansky.com (books for parents) and dawnhuebnerphd.com (workbooks for children).
On the flip side, make sure that your children know that it is safe to express their thoughts and feelings at home without judgement. It can be dangerous to keep emotions bottled up inside. Make sure children know that having strong emotions is okay. Without feeling like it is safe to express emotions and knowing how to safely manage them, people turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or other substances, or self-injurious behaviors.
#13 – Make Home a Sanctuary. Be the calm you want your children to emulate. The website Parentandteen.com suggests parents convey the following to teens, but this message is also appropriate for school-aged children: “The world feels frightening right now. So, we are going to make our home a haven. We’re going to choose to be kinder and gentler. We will gain our strength from each other. We are going to speak openly about how we love and care about each other. There will still be little things about each other that get on our nerves. But we are going to do our best to let them go. We are going to get through this together because we will create peace in our house.”
Show your children how to be calm and peaceful, watch your tone of voice and body language. Take some deep breaths and remove yourself from a situation if you feel it escalate. Remember it takes two people to argue. Try to see the positive side of your children’s’ behaviors, even if you are currently finding them frustrating. And remember to give children more praises than corrections.
#14 – Have Fun. Schedule family game night or any family time with the above ideas or your own. I have talked to many people who have camped outside in their backyard in lieu of a vacation or sleepover party, sewn masks together for donation and sponsored midshipmen.
When my husband was tackling a repair task at home that required him to turn off the electricity for a few hours, my kids and I made Bingo Cards of all we guessed would happen during the planned four hours without power. We wrote things in the boxes like- needs another trip to Home Depot, he says it’s going to take an extra hour, goes to neighbor to borrow a different tool, etc. The tone wasn’t mean-spirited (he wanted to make his own bingo card) and it helped lighten up the time.
#15- Model Positive Thinking. Express gratitude (see part 1) and forgiveness. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, just as there is no such thing as a perfect child. Forgive yourself for letting your kid play video games while you had to work. Forgive your child for not being able to find all the school assignments on google classroom.
Re-frame how you look at things. Consider thinking about things not as a “problem” but as an opportunity or a challenge. Are you bored or is this an opportunity to try something new? Are you overwhelmed or just really important?
Let some things go and take care of yourself so you can be calm for your children and give them the foundational sense of safety and security that they need.