What parents can do to help kids cope with stress

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By Andrea Tomkins

Our social media feeds, not to mention local coffee shops, are full of parents who are either thrilled their kids are back in school or missing them terribly (probably both). One thing’s for certain, no matter what parents and caregivers are feeling right now, all families go through some degree of back-to-school stresses. I wanted to use this post to share some tips and experiences of my own.

 

Find routines that work and stick to them

Daily routines can seem boring and repetitive but kids find comfort in them. Everyone (not just kids!) is better equipped to deal with stress if they are hydrated, their tummies are full of good food, and they’ve had a good night’s sleep, so creating routines around eating and sleeping is a good start.

School lunches can create stress for school age kids. As I mentioned in this post about lunch hacks, packing lunches with old favourites and knowing they’ll be eaten is preferable to quinoa/feta/onion salads that just get dumped in the garbage at the end of the day. (For the record, I’ll take quinoa over ham and cheese any day!) It also takes the pressure off what may already be a challenging time. I’ve been seeing a lot of Facebook posts about new shorter nutrition breaks and how some kids aren’t getting enough time to eat.

We are not above bribery! If you’d like to encourage your children to drink more water, letting them pick out a fun new water bottle might seal the deal. Older kids may appreciate fruit infusion bottles too.

 

Identify the worst stressors, then put on your thinking cap

Do yourself a favour and ask yourself if your child is the one who is stressing, or if it’s you. When my kids were young I spent too much time worrying about packing cool/fun lunches and later realized my kids didn’t care if they ate the same sandwich every day. That lunch stress wasn’t theirs, it was mine and I had unwittingly created a situation that wasn’t really even there to begin with.  Also, once we switched to Goodbyns for lunches my stress and annoyance about disappearing lids disappeared.

Homework woes? Create a designated time and space (read: device free) for homework and get ‘er done. If homework problems escalate – there’s too much or it’s too hard – contact the teacher before the situation gets worse. Is homework an issue because the kids are overscheduled? Every child is different but maybe it’s time to narrow things down to one organized sport or activity.

Are the kids wired and tired? Consider adopting a new routine in which everyone leaves their iDevice on the charger downstairs, an hour before bedtime.  

Always late? Setting out clothes the night before or moving alarm clocks to the other side of the room might be the solution. Setting the clocks back a few minutes does wonders for some families. (Just don’t tell the kids you did it!)

If you’re stumped and can’t find a solution, make a point of talking things over with other parents. I always appreciated the advice of parents with kids who were slightly older than mine. Other parents can be a goldmine of information and their “been there done that” attitude and advice was really helpful sometimes, not to mention calming. For example, our kids never wanted to eat breakfast before school. Our parenting community suggested breakfast smoothies, which was the perfect solution for us. Who knew that a couple of ripe bananas blended with Greek yogurt and a splash of milk could help us bypass all those tears AND help fuel their day? And if we ran out of time in the morning we’d pour the smoothies into Lifefactory bottles and bring them with us on the walk to school.

 

Give kids time to get physical

It can be as simple as a daily walk with the dog or time at the park after dinner. Exercise is a great stress reliever for everyone. Kids need exercise as well as unstructured playtime, so make sure you make time. One of the best things we did as a family (and I just wish we’d done it more often) was to organize games of tag at the park with other neighbouring families. It was so fun!

 

Eat as a family

Studies show that eating dinner regularly as a family has many benefits. (Here’s a great article about it.) Studies show that kids who eat dinner with their parents are healthier and less likely to participate in high-risk behaviours such as smoking, binge drinking, and doing drugs. Kids who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and have a better relationship with them, so make it happen! That being said, the reality is that not everyone can come together for dinner every night. So how about breakfast? For our family, sometimes the best time to chat was during our (device free!) walk to school every morning.

Above all, make sure your kids understand that you’re there for them. Actions speak louder than words, so pick your battles. When your kid feels down and bitter, sometimes a big bear hug is more powerful than a lecture.

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