Welcome to the new school year, when new friends will be made, new lessons will be learned, new experiences will be had and new stresses are sure to abound. Let’s face it: in today’s overly scheduled, competitive world, stress has become a way of life. And students are feeling it more than ever.
“There is huge drive for success,” says Kaleidoscope Behavioral Health therapist Dore Quinn. “There is the pressure that every child’s journey should be the same, and that’s not necessarily good for each child.”
In fact, Dore encourages parents to let their children know, at the beginning of the school year, that success is not expected 100% of the time.
“It’s OK if they fail something,” she says. “It’s actually important for them to learn to fail at something at home because when they fail at college for the first time, it’s a disaster, and some kids are becoming suicidal.”
How can parents teach their children that failure is normal and acceptable? By modeling failure themselves, Dore and her colleagues say.
“Kids are afraid to make mistakes and therefore are limiting themselves by not even trying,” says Kaleidoscope founder Dr. Kay Trotter.
“I always tell parents, ‘I want you to model trying new things and not being successful for your kids and purposefully failing so they see it’s OK. I want your child to try new things and fail under the umbrella of your protection.’”
While trying new things is important, Kay and her colleagues also encourage parents to carve out free time and playtime. This will alleviate stress for both children and parents. She says families often are stuck in a “go-go lifestyle," and when parents are stressed, their children are stressed.
“Developmentally, the free play element is so important to children, and they are not getting it,” says Kaleidoscope counselor Lisa Beijan.
Kaleidoscope Play therapist Jason McCoy agrees.
“Students only are getting an average of 20 minutes of recess. Play is literally the place where kids process all of their experiences and emotions,” he says, adding that when people are at play, they are not experiencing stress hormones.
Jason encourages parents to schedule regular dates with their children.
“These should not be an event or an expense,” he says, but a simple walk, hike or art project together.
Conversely, parents should realize that private time also is important for children as they grow.
“It’s a developmental need,” Lisa says.
Though isolating is a normal part of growing up, the Kaleidoscope team says it also can be a response to increased stress.
“Kids will isolate a lot when parents are being overly critical,” Dore says. “You have to balance that.”
Kay encourages parents to keep lectures to their children succinct in order to keep stress at bay.
“If a parent is going to lecture, they should keep it to 10 words. Anything over 10 words is about you,” she says, adding, “Every moment is not a teaching moment. Just be with your kids.”
For more information about Kaleidoscope Behavioral Health, visit KaleidoscopeBehavioralHealth.com.
• Be willing to say no. At the beginning of the year, have a family meeting to evaluate and narrow down extracurricular activities.
• Have regular dates with your children; just a simple walk will suffice. Take time to connect and decompress.
• Practice breathing activities. Invest in a bottle of bubbles and play bubble tennis—blowing a bubble back and forth, not letting it reach the ground. It may sound silly, but this will encourage deep breathing and help alleviate stress.
• Don’t forget the basics. Eat well and sleep well. Proper rest and nutrition are imperative for mental health.