First, let's look at what stress is and where it comes from: everyday things like traffic noise, or rare events like illness or divorce (called stressors).
Stress is part of our lives, and we can learn to reduce its harmful effects by becoming aware of how we are reacting in the moment. Learning and practicing a mindful approach to stressors can have a wonderfully positive effect on the people around us, and it's especially good for our children.
The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can feel familiar, even normal. We don't notice how much it's affecting us, so it's important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload.
Stress, and the ways it affects our bodies and minds – from blood pressure problems to insomnia, upset stomachs, headaches, and anxiety – arises mainly from our thoughts and fears, including the idea that we need to be perfect parents. We naturally care what others think of us and our children are seen as extensions of our self-value.
Stress in the family: time for a change
As stress cause physical symptoms in parents, it is also harmful to our children, who will try to cope with the stress around them by reacting emotionally or feeling sick. What can we do about it when we’re already too busy?
Especially in summer, our kids seem to be everywhere at once! Both moms and dads can feel the need to wind down along with the children.
Here are a few tips to start:
Self-care: Do some breathing exercises and body scans for yourself, and then again with the kids. Teach them to recognize their thoughts and feelings, and show them how to experience them without judgment. A good way to do this is to get everyone involved in a weekly or monthly Family Mindfulness Night.
Get organized and share the To-Do list. Don't rush. Take the time you need to prepare for the inevitable stressful moments. Even family vacations can be a source of stress. But when you are organized, you can arm yourself with snacks, treats, and games that will keep everyone engaged and entertained in the moment.
Laugh. Doctors and researchers at the Mayo Clinic recommend laughter for stress reduction – it's hard to be stressed out when you're laughing and having fun. Dozens of funny sites and games can help you get the whole family involved.
When the inevitable happens: Your kids are upset, the meal is late, you didn't sleep well last night… Stop what you are doing and play a laughter meditation with school-age kids, and try the following light-hearted games with the little ones (inspired by the suggestions at Kids Activities Blog):
- Tell your little ones that they are not allowed to laugh or smile. Do a silly dance or make a silly face and pretend to be upset when they laugh at you.
- Depending on their ages, sing a nursery rhyme or the alphabet song and make up your own words or letters. "Baa Baa Blue Sheep" "ABCDEFZ".
- Play "Red light-Green light" and say a funny word such as "plop!" instead of "red light."
- Have a funny-face contest and winner gets a treat! (Make sure everyone has a chance to be the winner).
- For the very little ones, play a classic game of peek-a-boo or hide-and-go-seek.
- Tell "knock-knock" jokes: "Knock knock" "Who's there?" "Orange" "Orange who?" "Orange you glad to see me?"
Remember that just by paying attention and playing with them, kids' stress is reduced and naturally, yours will be too.
Play this to get everyone into the right mood!