With mental illness getting the much-needed attention it deserves, I feel that we sometimes leave our kids out of the discussion. A lot of the time we say that children shouldn’t have a reason to be stressed or depressed: “What could they possibly have to be stressed about? Everything is provided to them!” Or so goes that line of thinking.
I was one of those people until my oldest son started kindergarten. Then I noticed his heightened anxiety toward going to school and homework, and it dawned on me that there is plenty to stress about at his age. I decided to start showing him a few ways that I dealt with my stress. Self-care isn’t just for the grown-ups. Here are a few of my tips:
1. SCREEN TIME
Limit screen time, especially in the evening and at night. There have been countless studies done on the damage that long periods of blue light exposure has on a person’s emotional state. Blue light delays the release of a sleep-inducing hormone called melatonin, which in turn causes your sleeping habits to change. Sleep deprivation can eat away at your child’s happiness, causing them to be more irritable, and even in some cases display symptoms of clinical depression. Try to set a screen time curfew, or chop out blocks of time specifically for your child to use their electronics, but not before bed. Try replacing screen time with other activities like crafts or outdoor play. Fingers crossed, they will like doing the other activities and it will become a healthier habit.
2. BATH TIME
I know I can’t be the only mom out there who, after a long stressful day, wants to hop in the tub with bubbles and a nice glass of wine. There’s something about the hot water that seems to melt away the day’s worries and foster a feeling of wellbeing. So why not introduce this well-known relaxation technique to our children early on? Let them climb in the tub with all the bubbles and maybe even essential oils, such as lavender, which is commonly used in most calming baby washes or rose oil. Rose oil and lavender have wonderful, calming effects and can help reduce anxiety and depression. This works for both my boys when they have had especially rough days; they’re like two different people after a long bath.
3. QUITE TIME
Cut out the noise. Give your child a safe, quiet space to think and be alone. Taking a time out gives them an opportunity to collect their thoughts and emotions. Many toddlers won’t appreciate this, but my 6-year-old sure does. He regularly takes advantage of this time to reflect after he’s had a small meltdown or a bad day at school. He comes back with a clear mind, and usually apologizes for acting out. I believe the key to this is not making it seem like a punishment–make it fun! My son loves to color during his reflection time, so we have tons of coloring books and crayons waiting in his little corner.
4. FUN TIME
Join in on the fun. Do things together that will bring both of you joy, such as a play date. Have your child suggest an activity, and just go with the flow. It makes them feel like their opinions and likes are important and valued, building confidence.
5. NAP TIME
And last, but definitely not least, napping! Sleep is so important for healthy physical and mental growth that its recommended that school age children get between 9 and 11 hours a day. With school beginning so early and all the extracurricular activities, it’s hard to cram in that much sleep, but it is necessary for emotionally healthy kids. Which is why I promote napping in my household. If you see an opportunity, take it! Being overtired can present itself as being super hyper around bedtime. Something a nap may have helped prevent. Be safe and nap.
Stress is not just an adult issue, and we ought to support our children in finding simple ways to take care of themselves. Enforcing these tips will help create better habits when they get older. My hopes are that with the right support my children won’t have to figure out what works for them when they’re my age. I hope my tips can help you and your little ones, too. Nothing can replace the benefits of therapy, though, so if things are still overwhelming for you and your child, please seek professional help.