Apparently children and their parents are facing more stress and anxiety than they ever have before. It appears as though the years in isolation from the constant changing guidelines within the evolving pandemic had an impact on increasing those challenges tenfold. Moreover, the challenge that has become even greater is that children do not know how to cope independently. They have become too reliant on their parents doing it for them or distracting themselves with video games or their various forms of handheld technology and avoiding actively confronting their struggles. Similarly as parents juggle work-life balance they are not always setting the best examples for their children leading to a significant number of angry, anxious, negative, and stressed out homes in our province. Part of the challenge is that our children have become accustomed to everything happening immediately and when it does not pan out that way, their irrational thoughts emerge and emotions become significantly elevated.
The key is prevention, we need to ensure that our children are managing their stress every single day and not just waiting for a stressful event. It will be important to equip our children with the notion that they need to be engaged in at least 60 minutes of exercise every single day. If you need to formally schedule it in, then do it. Many children are registered for activities, but if not, ensure that they are engaged in some form of routine rigorous movement every single day.
Secondly, ensuring that their eating habits are being attended to routinely so that they are not just eating what you are serving but more so they know why you are offering those options to them. If your children live off of crackers, waffles, and granola bars, help them understand the importance of having more of a palette of colours on their plate and the role that each food item plays in their overall growth and brain development. However, ensure that you do the same for yourselves. As adults, our metabolism and bodies change as we age, maximizing what we intake can have a significant impact on both mood and self-esteem and how that effects social interactions.
Ensure that your children are engaged with friends routinely. If they are not seeing friends outside of school at least once per week, they will not know how to initiate social interactions on their own. Help them understand the necessity of having routine playdates and even though it may take effort on your behalf to arrange, put in that effort because it will strengthen their social skills, generalize their friendships, and eventually encourage them to make the arrangements themselves. With routine social engagement, there is a direct inverse relationship on stress; more socializing, less stress. Continue to evaluate their mood in response to their peer choices. Help them realize the friends that are right for them now, may change as they age. Finally, evaluate their mood and line of thinking every week.
As involved parents and busy lives our children are leading, they are also having a very hard time managing their emotions and most often feel ill-equipped to cope effectively which leads to and is related to very high levels of stress. You may believe that because they are going to school daily or they attend their activities routinely that they are functioning well and their mood remains stable. However, the challenges continue to mount and our children do not appear to be able to navigate this process well in our current world.
Therefore, it will be crucial that you check-in with each of your children on a weekly basis (if not more), give them the space to reflect and discuss what they are thinking and feeling. Help them expand their emotional vocabulary so that one emotion does attempt to capture five different unique feelings. Create an open welcoming space for them because they need to see that it is easy to engage in that process. If they see it as challenging, they will avoid it or get annoyed with you. Model the behaviour of what it is like to openly express feelings and candid thoughts. Then start to work through ways you can help them challenge their thinking. Help them see how you take stressful events in your life and reframe your own line of thinking so your emotions do not become overwhelming. Our children need to see that stressful events can be prevented and more so when they are not, there are multiple ways to cope that can be immediate. However, the core of coping begins with the response as to how we think about any of the stressful events. Help empower your children to think of alternative ways of thinking about their thoughts and then have them write or type it out. The more they actively type or write out those thoughts and feelings, the more real they become. Use incentive for them, if they want to play video games, they need to earn it by engaging in the processing of their feelings. If they do not engage in this process, it is very common that their mood will become elevated quickly.
With day camps for Spring Break and Summer camp registrations slowly unfolding, it will be imperative that there is more effort put toward creating this type of balance for your children AND teenagers. Yes, your children are extremely important and often play the role of the sun as they believe the earth revolves around them, but start with yourselves. Start with the preventative strategies for yourself so that you can model and impart your approach with your children. So when they attend day camps and sleep away camps this coming Spring and Summer they are equipped to manage the unknown, confront their fears, and maximize their growth and independence. Two resources that can also help star the process of equipping your children with more independence include Life Skills for Kids and Life Skills for Teens by Karen Harris. One of the best ways we can prepare our children for pending stress, is to equip them with the life skills needed to have options when they are in new and unfamiliar situations.