We look forward to the end of the school year, with the expectations of summertime freedom, the lazy days, camp, and the change of daily routines. However, before we reach those treasured days, there are projects to be turned in, sports tournaments to compete in, standardized testing to take, and much more. High school seniors have even more tasks and activities to squeeze into the calendar. It can be overwhelming for both parents and students. Expect to see heightened anxiety and even the occasional meltdown before that final bell rings.
It’s important that children learn that life can be stressful from time to time and that it’s completely normal. Feeling anxious, overwhelmed, pressured and exhausted are all normal reactions and it’s alright to feel that way. As parents, it’s important to give your children the tools and coping strategies they’ll need to get them through these times; the hard "stuff" that life inevitably throws at us. No matter what the age, children are going to face stress, and at some point, they’ll be out on their own in the world and will need to have these skills. Arm them with techniques to make these times more manageable.
Teach them to Practice Good Self-Care
When life gets too busy, when the to-do list gets too long and the obligations and assignments become overwhelming, it’s tempting to take care of your obligations rather than yourself. The best thing you can do when you become too frazzled is to stop, take a breath, and refocus on your own well-being. The result is you’ll find yourself less stressed and thus, more productive. When your kids feel this way, encourage them to get off of social media and walk the dog, get outside and do something physical - take a shower or a long bath, call a friend, read something – just for fun, get up and stretch, listen to music. Also, it’s helpful to conduct a quick health check to make sure your children are getting enough sleep and down time, drinking enough water, and eating healthy food. It’s a good idea to nudge your children towards these healthy habits when times get tough and especially when their stress levels are on the rise.
Help them to Beat Back their Worries and Avoid Anxious Thoughts
It’s too easy to fall into a self-defeating cycle of stress – being overwhelmed – avoidance or procrastination – stress – being overwhelmed – avoidance or procrastination, and on and on. It’s truly a cycle that’s hard to break when you’re deep into its grasp. When your children go through this, help them learn the art of productive self-talk. We’ve all experienced the phenomenon of worrying about something and automatically jumping to the worst possible conclusion or outcome. We also know that the reality is that the worst possible outcome rarely comes to fruition. Talk to your children, help them to think logically about this worst-case scenario, have them listen to their inner-voice and talk back to it. You can also have them dive into that worst-case outcome and talk about how they can move forward or what their next steps can be should “the worst” really come about. But assure them that in all likelihood, things won’t work out the way they fear. You’re helping them to talk their way out of that vicious cycle, so they can get onto the business at hand in a rational and calm way.
Make a list!
You’ve heard this before, but list making is an effective tool to use in many situations. When your children are over-scheduled and overwhelmed, making a list helps them to organize and plan. It’s a great visual cue and it’s a great way to alleviate the worry that something will be forgotten, because they’ve written in down and can check their list as needed. It clears a bit of important head space. So, make a list with the tasks to be done on one side of the paper, followed by the amount of time it will take to get done, the due date (or where the event lands on the calendar), or some other way to prioritize that makes sense to their particular situation. After each item is completed, have your child cross through it. This is important because it’s a visual way of letting them see their progress, their way through this stressful time. This seems like one more addition to the to-do list, but the effort will be well worth it.
Check your own Focus and Check your Words
Effort, work ethic, attitude: the qualities that your children have control over. Grades, test scores, placement: not so much. As parents, instead of focusing intently on grades, scores, and wins, praise your children for working hard, practicing hard, and taking responsibility. That way, instead of feeling like they’ve failed if they struggle, they’ll know that they can work on the process and the effort, the areas they can change. If your children have always been told they’re smart, or super athletes, brilliant musicians, etc., and then they start to struggle (which inevitably will happen in life), they’re likely to feel like something is wrong with them and maybe even feel ashamed. Let’s praise the effort instead.
Are you modeling reasonable behavior and good stress coping skills? Your children will learn from you in many areas of their life and that includes how you yourself handle stressful situations or deal with a full daily schedule. If you lose your cool, take a breath, calm down and begin again. Do you groan about the overwhelming day ahead? Let your children see you prioritizing your time and working out a realistic schedule of activities. Let them also see you decompress. Be a model of good stress management and they’ll take their cue from your good example.
Everyone seems to be stressed these days. Figuring out and working a successful coping plan is important, so work the plan. Your whole family will be better off for your efforts.