They need to learn to structure their own time without always looking at us or their screens. They need the chance to notice how good they feel when they get some downtime and don’t feel so rushed. They need to understand that life isn’t the activities that fill it, but something much more vast and mysterious.
3. Teach Stress Reduction Skills.
Teach your child that we all need a repertoire of healthy ways to reduce emotional tension, so we aren’t vulnerable to misusing unhealthy ones, like food and alcohol. For instance, physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce the stress hormones circulating in our bodies.
Make it a daily habit to get your child moving. Nature is also a proven antidote to stress; so be sure that some of that movement happens outdoors.
Another helpful technique for kids is to listen regularly to audio specifically designed to help them learn to regulate stress, such as guided visualization or a story that teaches deep breathing.
4. Listen, and Laugh.
Like adults, kids need a chance just to talk, to offload the worries and tensions of the day. A regular tradition of them talking and you listening — without trying to solve anything; just with respect and empathy — will help your child or teen open up and talk to you when something stressful happens in their life, from bullying to major goofs on their part.
Kids also need plenty of laughter, which helps them heal the normal anxieties of daily life and actually transforms body chemistry. If you find you’re too caught up in moving your child through the routine to take time for listening and laughter, build some small connection rituals into your family life, such as snuggling each morning, roughhousing and laughter before bath time, and everyone sharing their favorite and worst parts of the day at dinner.
5. Encourage your child’s passions — without pushing.
Encouraging children to be creative agents ultimately gives them more joy in life than the passive consumption of culture created by others. But I’m not just referring to the arts; any talent, skill, or hobby that matters to your child will insulate him from peer pressure, drug use, and the extremes of commercialization.
Just don’t push your child to perform or to “win” with his passion, or you take a source of joy and transform it into another source of emotional tension. Stop pushing! Protect your child from emotional discomfort.
6. Choose a school that minimizes homework and competition — and emphasizes social-emotional learning.
Almost half of all kids in the US are stressed by school, according to American Psychological Association studies. That’s because most schools push children beyond their developmental level, forcing them to sit still and to learn by listening and memorizing instead of by exploring, doing, and discussing. Many schools also use shaming discipline techniques like red/yellow/green lights, which increase emotional tension in children who are struggling to control themselves.
Children learn best when the “whole child” is acknowledged and encouraged. That means a curriculum that includes social-emotional development will help your child develop both emotional intelligence and intellect, and reduce stress levels.
Homework is a big stressor for children who have been sitting in a classroom all day. If you can choose a school that minimizes homework, you’ll be freeing your child to have more downtime for play, self-initiated exploration, and pursuing her own passions. That not only reduces the child’s stress level; it’s ultimately better for learning.