4 Reasons to Encourage Daydreaming

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There was a time when Freud described daydreaming as “infantile” and “neurotic.  Daydreaming, he seemed to believe, was nothing but an immature defense mechanism used to avoid dealing with the real tasks at hand.

After many years of research, daydreamers are finally getting the credit they so deserve (somewhere up there, John Lennon is smiling).  Current research shows that people daydream 30% of the time. Mind wandering, as psychologists describe it, actually boasts many benefits.  Sure, it provides a much-needed escape during times of stress (Freud wasn’t always right, you know), but it also opens the mind to new possibilities.

So before you snap your child out of that afternoon daydream in favor of completing yet another homework assignment, consider these reasons to to let the mind wandering continue:

Restores a sense of calm:

When kids allow their brains to wander during times of stress, they begin to feel calm again.  It’s similar to a guided relaxation, minus the guide.  Yes, you want your kids to pay attention in school.  And yes, they have only a certain amount of time to complete tests.  But kids are under an incredible amount of stress these days.  Between rigorous academics and schedules that don’t allow for much downtime, kids lack adequate time to simply check out.

If a few minutes of staring out the window thinking about rainbows and unicorns is what restores a sense of calm in your child, let her be.  The rest can wait.

Inspires creativity:

Taking a mental break from the mundane tasks of daily life actually opens up the mind to creativity.  Have you ever watched as your child daydreamed for a few minutes and then came back to reality with a complicated art project in mind?  Checking out and letting the stress subside for a few minutes can actually give your brain the space it needs to inspire new ideas.

In school, kids need to complete specific tasks and memorize enormous amounts of information.  But at home…they can learn how to think.  Let them sit back and think outside the box for a change.

Improves problem solving skills:

Some kids really struggle with problem-solving strategies.  When frustration kicks in, it can be difficult to think clearly and find alternatives.  This is where the idea of taking a break or a brisk walk comes in.  Often times walking away from a problem opens our minds to new solutions.

A daydream is simply a mental walk.  It’s a break from the immediate feeling of frustration and an opportunity to allow new thoughts in.  It’s a dedicated period of time to work on problem-solving.

Inspires future goals:

Some daydreams are more grounded in reality than others, and that’s ok.  We need to escape from time to time in an effort to maintain happiness.  Although apparently some researchers my disagree, that Oscar speech that you’ve been working on for years might actually bring a smile to your face as you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.  Just as long as you know that the Oscar fantasy is just that…a fantasy.

But other daydreams can actually promote goal setting.  Sometimes kids will return from a daydream with a specific goal in mind.  Take the opportunity to help your child break that goal into manageable steps and begin working toward it.

Clearly daydreaming can be a very positive outlet for kids.  And with all of the stress thrown at them these days, it’s essential to encourage coping strategies that work.  So go ahead and let your little dreamer dream just a little bit longer…and maybe use that time to perfect your Oscar speech, you know, just in case.

Do you have a daydreamer in your house?

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Coping with Childhood Stress

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Childhood stress is on the rise.  It might seem like childhood is a breeze (they don’t have to worry about the big things in life, right?), but often it is full of stressors big and small.  Many children just keep swimming until they finally sink because they truly don’t know how to cope.  They don’t know what stress is, how it affects them, or how to ask for help.  And they definitely don’t know how to help themselves.

It can be difficult to spot signs of childhood stress, as symptoms of stress are often physical in nature.  That headache that just keeps coming back for more probably isn’t due to dehydration or allergies – it’s probably a function of stress.

Some common signs of childhood stress include:

  • Complaints of stomach aches or headaches
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Behavioral changes (short temper, increased anger, excessive crying, clinginess, etc.)
  • Nervous habits like nail biting or hair twirling
  • Refusal to participate in normal daily activities (school, camp, sports, etc.)

Childhood stress can be triggered by any number of reasons.  Sometimes it’s something external, such as big life transitions or world events, and other times it’s internal, such as the pressure to do well in school and make friends.

Some common triggers of childhood stress include:

  • Transitions (new schools, new teachers, a new baby in the family, moving, etc.)
  • Family problems (divorce, illness, death in the family, fighting between parents, etc.)
  • Over-scheduling (too many activities = stress and exhaustion)
  • Internal pressure (wanting to fit in, wanting to get perfect grades, fear of making mistakes or disappointing parents)
  • School stress (test anxiety is very real and very stressful, bullying, poor relationship with teacher, learning issues)
  • Bad news (major world events can really shake kids up)
  • Scary stories, books, movies, TV shows, games, etc.

It’s essential to teach kids how to cope with stress.  Simply telling them not to worry goes in one ear and out the other.  They need to practice stress relief strategies that they can use anywhere at any time.

Stress relief strategies for kids:

  • Deep breathing exercises:  Teach your child to breathe in slowly for a count of four, hold for three, and release for a count of four.  Deep breathing relaxes the central nervous system and helps reduce stress symptoms such as a racing heart, feeling dizzy, or sweaty palms.
  • Exercise:  Adequate daily exercise helps reduce overall symptoms of stress and anxiety.  Aim for at least 45 minutes of kid friendly (riding a bike, shooting hoops, etc) daily exercise.  Taking a 15 minute walk or kicking a soccer ball when under stress can also relieve the acute stress reaction and help your child open up and talk about it.
  • Worry journal:  Writing down their daily stressors can help kids get their feelings out.  Leave a journal by the bedside table and encourage your child to record her daily stressors and the things that made her happy.
  • Self-talk:  Talking your way through a stressful event can help restore a feeling of control.  Teach your child to talk back to her worried brain and take control over the situation in the process.
  • Consistent sleep:  Consistent sleep helps reduce stress.  Prioritize bedtime and set a good example for your kids by making sure that you get adequate sleep (10-12 for them, 7-8 for you).
  • Adequate nutrition:  A balanced diet helps keep stress under control.  Help your child learn to make the connections between food choices and behavioral reactions.  Be sure to stock your kitchen with plenty of healthy options and teach your kids to cook!
  • Hug it out:  Never underestimate the healing power of a hug.
  • Calming stones:  My DIY Calming Stones over on moonfrye are a great way to help kids feel calm and remember that good feelings are just around the corner.

How do you teach your kids to cope with stress?

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Helping Kids Cope with Stress

You might not know this, but apparently 5th grade is the new 11th grade.  The pressure to succeed, make that excel, in elementary school is alarming.  All over the country parents are complaining of too much homework, too many activities, and too much stress.

 

Believe it or not, stress is not actually a bad thing.  A healthy amount of stress challenges us to push just a little bit harder.  It’s what helps us remain focused and alert in emergency situations.  It’s that little voice in the back of your head that suddenly becomes loud and yells, “swerve!” when another car is headed straight for yours.

 

A healthy amount of stress keeps our brains active and alert.

 

But children today experience very high levels of stress, even beginning in Kindergarten.  The academic, social, and athletic pressure imposed upon them is unreasonable at best.  And they are suffering for it.

 

Much to my dismay, I don’t think the homework thing will subside anytime soon (although the President of France is on a mission to ban homework…anyone want to jump the pond with me?), so it’s important to teach your children how to cope with stress.

 

**Parent tip:  Paying for good grades or punishing for poor grades both impose external stress on your child.  Be proud when your child succeeds and seek help when your child struggles.  Keep your emotions away from the grade.

 

It’s imperative for parents to recognize the signs of excess stress in children.  A few things to look for include:

 

Sadness or depressed mood

Sleep disturbance (too much or too little, frequent night-wakings, frequent nightmares)

Irritability or other mood changes

Stomachaches or headaches (including migraines)

Anxiety (nail biting, restlessness, rumination, excess worries, etc.)

Eating issues (too much or too little, significant changes that are not otherwise accounted for by growth)

Frequent colds

 

Whether or not you see any signs of significant stress in your child, teaching your child to cope with stress now can only help when overload hits in the future.

 

Kiss Overscheduling Goodbye:  If your child is up hours beyond his normal bedtime in the name of homework each night, something has to go.  Kids of all ages need to learn to set limits.  In general, one team sport and one other extra curricular (art class, theater, etc.) per semester is plenty.  Your child needs downtime, social time, and enough time to keep up with academics without losing sleep.  Kids want to do everything.  It’s up to us to teach them to set limits and prioritize.

 

Focus on Sleep:  If your child has to get to school between 8-9AM each morning, staying up until 11PM is NOT an option.  Even though older children can self-monitor when it comes to getting ready for bed and completing assignments, they still need a consistent bedtime.  Weekend nights should only fluctuate by about an hour.  The older they get, the more they think that bedtime is no longer a requirement.  We have to model and teach healthy habits to ensure that out kids are getting enough sleep (which will help with those pesky headaches and colds).

 

Put Away Perfection:  Some kids put undue pressure on themselves (I would know, I was one of them) while others react the pressure imposed by parents.  Perfect doesn’t exist.  Teach your children to strive for doing their best on any given day, and to stop focusing on perfection.  The best gift you can give your child is the freedom to perform their best without comparison.

 

Healthy Choices:  You know how you reach for the salty pretzels and tend to eat on the go when you’re under stress?  We seek a quick fix when we feel our blood sugar crashing, but this actually complicates matters.  Teach your children to sit when they eat (Pop Tarts on the bus will only increase the body’s stress response), make healthy food choices (eat the rainbow), get regular exercise, and lean on their support systems.  Many children feel that they need to suffer through excess stress on their own.  Communicate with your children.  Welcome their thoughts and emotions.  Offer help.  They need you more than they are willing to admit.

 

Reframe:  When the stress cycle sets in, many kids become overwhelmed and respond to everything with a negative (I can’t, it’s impossible, it will never get done).  Teach your children to reframe their thoughts.  Have your child repeat the stressor out loud first and then say it again with a positive spin.  For example, “I can’t do this!  This math is too hard!” can be reframed to, “I think I need a break right now, and then I can tackle this difficult math homework.”  Adding a positive statement decreases the stress response and gives your child a moment to relax.

 

Teach Relaxation Exercises:  The natural response to stress includes clenched fists, tight muscles, increased heart rate, and shallow breathing.  Teach your children to calm their breathing and relax their muscles, even when under stress.  Yoga helps kids learn to control their breathing and focus their thoughts.  Invest in a great Yoga DVD and use it often.  Teach your kids to count to five when inhaling and exhaling.  Teach progressive muscle relaxation (Tighten hand muscles for a count of three and release.  Repeat on other side.  Work your way up your arms, one muscle at a time.  Then begin with toes and move up.  Finish with face muscles).  It’s also important to make sure that your kids have ample time for relaxing activities (drawing, reading, walking the dog, hobbies, etc.)

 

Self-Talk and Scripts:  Talking back to the fear center of the brain is a great way to stop stress on the spot.  When our brains react to excess stress, we often experience anxiety.  Anxiety can cause intrusive thoughts.  Teach your child to talk back to stress.  Saying something like, “Stop!  I know I can handle this.  I can finish this homework” can help stop the intrusive thoughts from taking over.  Preparing scripts in advance to tackle common stressors is also useful.  Being prepared for stressful situations can circumvent that out-of-control feeling that often results in excessive anxiety.

 

Conquer Small Obstacles:  Feeling in control of the small stuff can go a long way toward building resilience.  It can be difficult to know when to step back and when to step in.  Instead of focusing on fixing or not fixing, consider providing support along the way.  Help talk your child through small obstacles by asking questions and trying different strategies together.  When you support your child along the way, your child learns when to try alone and when to seek help.

 

Dial back the pressure at home whenever possible.  Set realistic expectations, but know that your child is working hard at school and in extra curricular activities.  And remember that a mental health day every once in a while can really reset the soul.  

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Decreasing Parental Stress

Parental stress is caused by a variety of factors:  Work, finances, illness, moving, grief and loss, separation, and behavioral concerns, to name a few.  No matter the cause, parental stress is a very real problem for many families today.

Signs of stress include:

  • Sleeplessness or excessive sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Exhaustion
  • Headaches
  • Frequent colds
  • Eating problems
  • Stomachaches

Stress can cause parents to yell at, disconnect from, and even hit their children.  It can also cause some fairly significant marital discord.  In short, stress negatively impacts families in more ways than one.

After a long night in the hospital with Riley, followed by a few nights of watching her breathe…I can hardly move my neck and Sean is officially sick.  Illness in a child can increase parental stress, particularly when that illness necessitates a 911 call.

Stress.  It affects all families at some point.

Below are some tips to decrease parental stress:

1.    Know Your Triggers:  Stress can hit all at once (acute stress reaction) or build up over time (multiple small stressors).  When you begin to experience symptoms of stress, take notes.  Write down what you are doing, time of day, and any other important factors.  Keeping a record will help you determine what causes you the most stress.  Details are important.  The sooner you find your triggers, the sooner you will be able to problem-solve and learn to cope with those triggers.

2.    Focus on Sleep:  The average adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night.  The average adult logs 6.1 hours of sleep per night.  On average, we are falling short.  Set a timer on your phone to signal a good time to start your nighttime routine.  Mine is set for 9:30, with the hope of getting to bed by 10:30.  I know there are many parents out there who take great pride in running on empty, but it will catch up to you sooner or later.  Prioritize sleep.

3.    Make Healthy Choices:  Believe me, I understand.  You are parenting, working, and doing 10,000 other things each day.  That’s exactly why you need to make healthy choices.  Healthy eating, including staying hydrated with plenty of water, keeps illness away and helps restore your body when you do experience stress.  20 minutes of exercise per day will also help decrease your stress and improve the quality of your sleep.  Pack some sugar snap peas, grapes, and water in your purse and make healthy choices throughout the day.  Bonus:  When you make healthy choices, you model healthy habits for your kids.

4.    Find Your Tribe:  Parenting is hard work, but you are not in it alone.  Parents who have adequate social support are likely to rely on that support when stress hits.  Talking to a friend, parent support groups, parenting classes, and even getting out with other couples or girls night/guys night are all known to decrease stress.  Find your tribe.  Be there for your friends and seek support from them when you are under stress.  Social support is essential.

5.    Create Boundaries:  If you said yes to every single event and invitation, you would probably never stop moving.  You need to stop moving.  There is no super-parent out there who can take on absolutely everything.  Set boundaries.  Have a limit.  Stick to it.  I don’t bring my kids to every party that comes our way.  We have limited downtime as a family as it is, and enormous parties don’t count as family time.  We make choices and set limits.  I also set limits on office hours, writing responsibilities, and volunteering.  I try to do a little of each, but maintain a balance to avoid stress.

6.    Set Clear Limits:  To this day, the biggest complaint to come through my office is this:  “My kids never listen.”  Kids are programmed to test boundaries and limits, it’s what they do.  Set clear limits/rules in your house.  Post them for all to see.  Review them often.  Amend them as your kids grow.  Review them again.  Yes, they will test you from time to time.  But children who know the rules are children who follow the rules.  Call it a limit, call it a rule, call it whatever makes you feel good…just call it something and make it happen.

7.    Stay Connected:  It can be difficult to find 1:1 time with your child, particularly if you are a working parent or have multiple children.  It’s not about the amount of time you spend; it’s about the quality of the time spent together.  Put away your worries and your electronic devices and just be present.  When you let go and just focus on being with your child, you feel the stress start to melt away.  Give yourself permission to just be present.

8.    Get Help:  There is no shame in asking for help when you need it.  Ask for help with the kids, get a night out with your spouse or friends, and ask for help with the chores.  When stress becomes overwhelming and you find yourself experiencing several symptoms at once, get therapy.  You don’t have to do it alone.  You can reach out and get some relief.  Note:  There is a rumor going around the blogging community that blogging is the new therapy.  While blogging can certainly be cathartic and healing…it does not replace therapy.  Get help now…you will appreciate it later.

Stress can affect your marriage, your relationships with your children, your relationships with your friends, and your overall health.  It’s important to consider stress management each and every day.

How do you manage parental stress?

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Three Good Things

Every once in a while, I just have one of those days.

It has nothing to do with the kids.  No, this is not a whine fest about what I wish they would or wouldn’t do.  The kids are busy being kids, and for that I will never fault them.

I’m talking about those days when emotion overwhelms me, for reasons I can’t quite describe.

When the to-do list threatens to completely occupy my thought process.

When the long-term goals become short-term obsessions.

When the laundry piles up, the shopping needs to be done, and kitchen drawers could really use some organizing.

Every once in a while, I have one of those restless days, powerless to quiet the racing thoughts.

Call it overwhelmed.  Call it exhaustion.  Call it mom guilt.

Call it all of the above.

Once in a while, those days just happen…

Please stop by Mommy Moment to continue reading Three Good Things and see how I put away the stress at the end of the day.