In part one we discussed how parents may unintentionally harm kids by the expectations they set, being willing to let go and five other ideas to hekp kids live a happier more carefree life. Here are seven more ways parents can help their kids live a happier, stress less life:
Discuss perceived stress vs. what is real. Stress and anxiety are insidious: once they take root in your mind, they tend to grow and spread. It’s all too easy for every waking moment to be consumed by fretting about what might happen or go wrong in the future. That’s why it’s very important to talk with your teen about what is stressing him out and to help him determine which worries are productive and which aren’t.
“Explain to your child that yes, it can be productive to worry a little bit about his upcoming biology test because that worry will prompt him to study and prepare,” Patkin suggests. “However, point out that it’snot productive—and actually unhealthy—to worry that he might get too many Bs and Cs, which mightprevent him from getting into the college he wants, which might prevent him from pursuing a successful career. It’s helpful to talk about what reasonable expectations look like for each week, grading period, and year. And be sure to share your own experiences to help your child put his situation into perspective.”
Help kids live in the present. If your child spends most of her time thinking about what she could have done better in the past or stressing about what might go wrong in the future, she’ll miss out on actually living her life. (This is a problem that plagues plenty of adults too!) To cut back on stress, help your teen to focus her attention on all of the good things in her life right now.
“If your child is in the ninth grade, for example, help her focus on the special events only ninth graders experience, like the first high school homecoming football game,” Patkin shares. “And living in the present goes for you, too. Don’t be so focused on the future that you forget to enjoy the time you have with your child right now. Remember, kids are smart—even from early childhood they can tell when you’re not really ‘with’ them mentally as well as physically, and that’s how they’ll learn to behave too.”
Focus on the importance of organization. The fact is, knowing exactly where everything is, what needs to be done, and the best way to do it never hurt anyone. Teach your children to keep an updated calendar, to make thorough to-do lists, and to keep their school papers in order—even if they don’t think they need to. Being organized will make them more efficient and will cut out quite a bit of needless worry along the lines of “I forget what I’m supposed to do for history class tonight!”
“Help your children with school and home to-do lists,” Patkin suggests. “Also, establish a weekly time to clean out sports bags and backpacks. Consider designating a homework area, complete with storage folders for each child and class. Being organized sets you up for success not just in school but throughout your life. It’s often the little things that have the biggest impact—but only if you remember to do them in a timely manner!”
Teach kids to take advantage of the most efficient times of their day. Survey a group of high-performing high school students, and most of them will probably tell you that their afternoons and nights are totally consumed by sports practice, school meetings, homework, etc. Chances are, these same kids are also utterly exhausted. As a parent, you might not be able to significantly decrease your child’s workload, but you can help him to work as efficiently as possible.
“If your child is a morning person, encourage him to get up twenty minutes early to practice violin or review for a test before school,” Patkin advises. “Likewise, if he’s a night owl, let him sleep as late as possible in the morning. Remember that the standard breakfast-school-everything-else schedule may or may not work best for your son, and within reason, allow and encourage him to do what’s most efficient.”
Help kids work toward the big things. You don’t want your kids to make themselves sick over things like end-of-year exams or college applications, but at the same time, they can’t ignore these big tasks altogether and live a happy-go-lucky Pollyanna existence. Help them learn to approach major milestones with a plan and a realistic perspective that won’t give them ulcers.
“It’s a good idea to sit down with your child at least a few times a year to talk about major changes and goals that are coming down the pike and how best to approach them,” Patkin asserts. “Until you broach the subject, you might not be aware of how worried your teen is about something. And this is a great opportunity to teach her how to break a big project down into manageable chunks that won’t be overwhelming but will still give her a sense of accomplishment when she completes them.”
Promote exercise. This is extremely important! If your child is already involved in a sport or athletic activity, great! It will help him feel more relaxed and stronger, it will improve his sleep, and it’s also a great natural anti-depressant. If physical activity isn’t a big part of your teen’s life, encourage him to find a way to be active that he enjoys.
“Exercise is the single most important thing your child, you, or anyone else can do to become less stressed and happier right now,” Patkin promises. “Exercise is a fantastic energizer, and it actually opens you up to future change by invigorating your mind and body. You might even consider making physical activity a family event! Go for a hike in the mountains, for a swim at the YMCA, or just go for a walk around the neighborhood. You’ll all benefit from the quality time together as well as from getting your blood pumping.”
Encourage kids to spend time with positive people. Your teen’s friends might be good kids, but if they’re constantly worrying about grades, tests, and what they need to improve on, their conversation topics probably aren’t adding to your child’s quality of life; instead, she’s probably picking up these unhealthy attitudes herself. While no child wants to hear from her parents that she’s hanging out with the wrong crowd, you can encourage her to spend time with people who approach life with positive attitudes and healthy perspectives.
“You must realize that we all tend to be the average of the five people we spend the most time with when it comes to our attitudes and outlooks,” Patkin shares. “So gently encourage your child to spend time with peers, as well as teachers and other mentors, who are positive influences. This is also something you can model yourself. Stop having gripe-fests at the kitchen table with your own friends if you want your child to spend more time around happy people!”
“Always remember that the ability to cultivate happiness and balance is one of the best possible ways to set your child up for success,” Patkin concludes. “Yes, performance and doing one’s best are important—but not at the price of your child’s well-being.”
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About the Author: Todd Patkin grew up in Needham, Massachusetts. After graduating from Tufts University, he joined the family business and spent the next eighteen years helping to grow it to new heights. After it was purchased by Advance Auto Parts in 2005, he was free to focus on his main passions: philanthropy and giving back to the community, spending time with family and friends, and helping more people learn how to be happy. Todd lives with his wonderful wife, Yadira, their amazing son, Josh, and two great dogs, Tucker and Hunter.