Each season presents a new schedule scramble. With three children, it is very easy for self created schedule overload to creep up on our family. Sports, music, school-one activity per child and we are already racing around town in order to keep up. We are fortunate to be able to expose our children to various experiences but it can back fire with increased stress for our children and us, their caregivers/schedulers/tutors/chauffeurs. Our children are more stressed out than previous generations. Some of our children are burning out before they even finish high school. As parents, we feel the pressure for our children to be better than average in sports, play a musical instrument and to excel at school. Our lives are scheduled, complicated and busy and we all feel the stress. The need to perform and excel is communicated at every level and it is a pace that can be exhausting for both parents and children. Our free time is absorbed by structured activities and artificial stimulation leaving little room for free play and unstructured family interaction.
What can we do to decrease our family’s stress levels? What choices can we make for our children’s schedules to keep things manageable? How can we build time into our schedule for unstructured together time?
1. AVOID OVER SCHEDULING
The threshold for feeling over scheduled is different for every family and depends on many factors. Do you have an activity every night after school? Are your weekends scheduled down to the minute? Is your child exhausted by his daily schedule? Are you constantly hurrying your child from one activity to the next? Ask yourself these questions and if your child is old enough, ask them how they feel. I have always been amazed how many “home days” my children will choose when given the chance. If you start feeling guilty about the free time and free play, remind yourself that this is how children learn to be creative, learn what they like, and learn how to solve problems. Plus, it creates a family intimacy that can be missed if we are frenetically running from one activity to another.
2. EAT FAMILY DINNERS
Studies show that the more often families eat together, the less likely children are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed or develop eating disorders. They are also more likely to do well in school and delay having sex. Wow! Need I say more? Family dinners get better with practice so set a goal to eat together as many nights as possible and stick to it! It is the perfect time to unwind, reconnect and interact with your child. It provides a stability and connectedness for your child and ensures that at least once a day you sit down as a family and really listen to each other.
3. CELEBRATE MISTAKES
A well known author on children’s discipline said that he used to ask his children regularly, “What mistakes have you learned from today?” Use this question or find your own way to communicate to your children that making mistakes is part of learning. Your children will experience their own failures-they don’t need your criticisms too. We want them to make mistakes on small decisions so that they can use this experience for later decisions with bigger potential consequences.
4. MODEL HEALTHY STRESS RESPONSES
How does stress affect you in your life? Do you take active measures to deal with your own stress in a healthy way? Do you control the factors in your life that are increasing your stress level? Do you strike a balance in your own life? Does every moment need a purpose or goal beyond the present? Remember that a healthy diet, exercise, sleep and caffeine control all set the stage for healthy stress responses. Finding something that you lose yourself to is another great stress reliever–and don’t feel guilty about enjoying it!
5. SHIELD YOUR CHILD FROM TOO MUCH MEDIA
We all want our children to have an appreciation of our relation to the outside world. However, giving the basic facts is enough. Do not let your child be bombarded by media images. Turn off the news and encourage discussion instead.
6. EXERCISE AND EAT WELL
You already know this one! Do it!! Exercise disguised as fun is a great way to let off steam for everyone. Dancing, tag, shooting hoops-whatever works for you and your family.
7. BUILD CONNECTIONS
Lack of social connectedness contributes to anxiety. Build a network: The church, family, close friends or whatever resonates with your family. Your children need to know that they belong and matter to a larger community.
8. LAUGH TOGETHER
Take the time to be silly. Use some humor in teaching your child what is right and wrong. Using a lighthearted approach for children’s typical misbehavior can often short circuit the progression. Laughter is a great stress release and can help your child keep perspective.
9. ENCOURAGE EXPRESSION
Learn how to listen to your child without judgement. Judgement and criticism are the quickest way to shut down your child. Try to respond to a child’s concerns with “Tell me more” or “It sounds like your worried about_______”. Don’t try to solve the problem immediately. Don’t try to talk your child out of their feelings. Often, letting your child vent in a nonjudgmental way will lead your child to a solution that works for them. A solution discovered is always better than a solution dictated.
10. IT IS ALL ABOUT TIME
Time is the hot commodity, the luxury of our generation. The time to sleep, to pursue hobbies, to be together, seems ever elusive. Everything needs to have a function: read to your child to make him smarter, exercise for health, play tennis so she can make the team. This constant pursuit can eclipse family time where being together is the only goal. Close down those nagging voices that won’t let you slow down, look into your child’s eyes and enjoy a moment together, truly together.