Alarm goes off. Not enough sleep. Stub toe on way to bathroom. No clean clothes. Overdue report. Panic stomachache. No time for breakfast. Obsessing over mean words. Missed ride.
And that’s your kid.
It is easy to imagine childhood as a menagerie of kites and kittens, but being a kid these days is super stressful. With sports, classes, chores, homework, social media and skyrocketing expectations, parents forget that their children can buckle under the weight of their jam-packed days. This can look like moodiness, irritability, restlessness, ennui, crying or changes in eating or sleeping patterns. Kids are not adults. Adults can get a massage, use a mental-health day, grab a glass of wine. Your little ones need guidance on how to cope with pressure and anxiety now so they can evolve into stable, happy grown-ups.
We know physical activity, fresh air, plentiful sleep, hugs, limited screen time, healthy food and parents that get along (studies show kids who witness marital conflict can have impaired cognitive development) are common ways to cut stress levels, but here are a couple out-of-the-box ideas to try:
SPILL THE TEARS
I took a parenting class a few years ago that focused on 4- to 7-year-olds. The biggest gem was the concept of a “hurts cup.” The crap that happens to a kid fills up a virtual cup that eventually has to empty. This is what we parents know as a meltdown. Instead of punishing or trying to smother the emotion, let your kid open the floodgates. This energy release (though louder than we would like) is the way this age group knows how to get back to “an empty cup.” In adult terms, how would you feel if you just had your heart broken and were rolled up in a snotty, sobbing ball while your best friend was hissing, “Stop that! Get up! Be a big girl! No TV for a week!” It is healthy to have safe times and spaces to dump out these emotions. If they are held in, they can fester into stomachaches and headaches, weakened immune systems, depression and more.
Stressed? Hurry up and meditate! While recommendations for meditation are passed out freely, the concept is intimidating, especially to wiggly, puppy-like children. Zentangle combines structured drawing with a meditative slant. Using 3-inch tiles, special pens and patterns found in nature, the artist creates an ultimately intricate piece one line at a time. There is no predetermined outcome, so it allows a child’s soul to design freely without the distraction of expectation. There are also no erasers. “Mistakes” are seen as beautiful opportunities for exciting and flexible change. A teacher will gently guide the process, but the drawings are done in an inspirational and mostly silent space. Students of this art form rave about the centering, calming and relaxing effects. Locate a certified Zentangle teacher at www.zentangle.com.
Maggie Knowles used to cover the dining and theater scene in Boston. Then she had her son, so now she writes about all things kid. She and her family live in Yarmouth, where she gardens, keeps bees and refuses to get rid of her stilettos.