Common Core Stress? Advocate, don’t argue

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I admit it:  I was in hysterics when I read the answer that dad provided for the math question on the second grade test.  The question was not a good one – I think we can agree on that.  The fallout, of course, is yet another argument about the role the Common Core Standards play in these scenarios.

The Common Core Standards are just that – a set of standards.  There is not a “Common Core Curriculum”.  However, school districts across the country are in a big transition phase as they seek out the best curriculum to help our children thrive and meet the standards.  The math that my daughter comes home with in her backpack each week is not necessarily the same as the math homework of a first grade student in New York.  Long story short:  The district calls the shots on the curriculum.

In some districts, kids are thriving.  Katie Sluiter works in a school district seeing great results.  But others are struggling.  That’s not to say that one district is better than another, but implementation has not been smooth  in every district.

So now we have one group of people yelling out, “Don’t blame the Common Core!” and a second group of people screaming, “Common Core math (or fill in the blank) is insane!”  And somewhere in between is a sea of confused and slightly stressed out parents trying to make sense of the changes.

My personal views on the matter are immaterial.  The fact is that parents do seem to be under stress as the changes occur, as do children when the intensity of the work becomes too much to bear.  It’s natural to want something (or someone) to blame, but the truth is that finding a scapegoat won’t actually help the second grade boy with the needlessly complicated math problem.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating:  Stress is contagious.  Change is HARD and can potentially trigger stress, but we need to cope with our own stress so that it doesn’t trickle down to our children.  Our kids watch us.  They take their cues from us.  If, each time we sort through the homework, we become inflamed over math problems or reading logs that appear time consuming and headache inducing, we send a very negative message to our kids.  You might think you’re empathizing, but what you’re saying is this:  This is too hard for you.  You’re not capable.  This will stress you out.  This will give you a headache.  This is wrong.

Is that how you want your kids to approach learning?  Do you want them to feel defeated before they’ve even had a chance to try?  Of course not.  You just don’t want added stress, and that is understandable.  Surely you know me well enough to know that I think homework grounded in busywork holds little to no value, but my daughter doesn’t know that I feel that way.  She knows that I support her learning, and advocate for her when stress creeps in.

So what can parents do?  How can parents help their children through these transitions without piling on additional stress?  Two words:  Support and advocate.

Advocate:

I am the first to admit that I scratch my head at some of the math problems that come home and the reading log made me want to run for the hills.  But you know what?  My daughter rocks those math problems!  She feels confident and capable and she’s learning to look at a problem from more than one angle.  That will help her later on in life.  And while the reading log is intense and the boxes are too small for first grade handwriting, the questions on the log are good.  It’s full of thinking questions.  And I want my daughter to think.

When she broke down into tears at the sight of one more thing to fill out, I emailed the teacher.  Within an hour, the new plan was for me to ask her the questions and fill in the log on her behalf.  Advocacy works.  When writing spelling words over and over and over again triggered stress in my otherwise free spirited child, I asked the teacher if she could type the words instead.  Done.  Advocacy works.

The bottom line is that young children are generally pleasers by nature and won’t advocate for their needs for fear of disappointing a teacher or parent.  Also?  It’s just a lot to ask of an elementary school child.  If stress related to your child’s learning is overwhelming (stomachaches, headaches, excessive tears, behavioral changes, etc.), it’s up to you to communicate with the teacher and work out a new plan.  All kids are different.  They have different strengths and weaknesses, and cope with stress in different ways.  Advocate for your child to find the best learning style and the stress will decrease.

Support:

Homework isn’t always fun.  Sometimes it is – my daughter just completed a long-term project in four days because it was an animal report and she just couldn’t wait to learn about the colossal squid.  But often it’s more of the same…because the point of homework is to support the learning (or so they say).  It can be frustrating for parents when kids dig in their heels and fight homework.  Believe me, I get it.  Instead of fighting back, we have to support them.

Empathize with your child.  Talk about your own homework as a kid.  Find ways to make it fun.  Plan obstacle course breaks every 10 minutes.  Throw in a dance party.  Take the assignment and make it into a game show.  And before you tell me that you don’t need extra work on your plate just to get the homework done, arguing is extra work.  And it leaves everybody feeling miserable.

Be there for your child.  Arguing with your child or imposing consequences for unfinished work only increases the negativity.  Just be supportive.

Get involved:

I recently attended a meeting at my daughter’s school.  It was an evening meeting scheduled to help parents understand changes to the curriculum as the school implements the Common Core Standards.  In a fairly good sized elementary school, only a handful of parents showed up.  Yes, it can be difficult to arrange childcare or tweak schedules to get to meetings at school, but it’s important to get involved.

Sitting back and listening to the chatter will not increase your understanding of the changes happening in your child’s school.  You have to get involved.  Volunteer when you can.  Schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher to express your concerns and problem-solve together.  Make the choice to be informed.

Cope with stress:

Teach your child to cope with stress.  Relaxation breathing and guided imagery are incredible tools for young children.  Talk about how you manage your own stress.  Try family yoga or make family exercise a priority to help relieve pent up stress (a hike is fun, healthy, and has the added benefit of fresh air/nature – very relaxing).

Childhood stress is serious.  It affects mental health, physical health, learning, and social/emotional well-being.  Be mindful of your own stress level so that you don’t project it to your child, and keep an eye on your child’s stress level so that you know when to intervene.

We can sit back and complain about the changes to education, or we can think locally and do something about it.  We have to put our kids first as the changes roll out, and the best way to do that is to be involved in your child’s education and support your child along the way.

 

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Happy Moms, Happy Kids

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Want happy kids?  Of course you do!  Stop by The Huffington Post to read 7 Secrets of Highly Happy Children!

We’ve known for quite some time that maternal and/or parental stress trickles down and causes stress for children.  Numerous studies have shown that even infants can sense stress and react with a stress response.

But a new study out of Boston Children’s Hospital and published in the journal Developmental Science found that a mother’s perceived social status predicts her child’s brain development and stress indicators.  In this particular study, children whose mothers saw themselves as low social status were more likely to have increased cortisol levels and less activation of their hippocampus.  What does that mean?  They’re stressed.

It seems like the hidden dangers of stress are all over the news these days, and yet we live in a society that thrives on stress.  Clearly this isn’t working for our children.  It’s time to work on finding happiness, so that the trickle down effect sends happiness trickling down to our little ones.

Happy moms raise happy kids.  And all moms deserve to be happy.

Tips for prioritizing happiness.

Surround yourself with positive:

Any mom knows the power of the tribe.  Parenting is hard work and having a supportive network of friends and family truly makes the difference between feeling like you can handle just about anything and feeling utterly alone in this thing.  But it’s important to make sure that your tribe is a happy one.

Negativity is contagious.  So is stress.  On the bright side…happiness is too.

Surround yourself with people who will lift you and help you through the hard days without bringing you down along the way.

Keep the venting short:

It’s important to vent those overwhelming feelings when life is hard, and it’s really important to have a supportive ear on the other end of the line.  But it’s essential to keep it short.  You can get stuck in a negative cycle of constant complaining and venting that increases your stress and potentially leads to symptoms of depression.

People love to joke that a long talk with a friend is akin to a therapy session.  The truth is that a therapist won’t just sit back and let you spin a cycle of negativity for 45 minutes.  A therapist will step in and help you through those feelings to get to the other side.

Set a timer.  Get it out.  Then move on to the happy stuff.

Get your me time:

“I can’t find a single second to just sit down.”

It’s a common refrain in mom circles.  And for good reason.  No matter the ages of your kids, there is always something that requires doing.  Being a parent is a full time job and a lifelong commitment.  But you have to find some time for you.

It’s critical for moms to learn the art of self-care while parenting.  We need to de-stress.  We need exercise.  We need an hour (or a few) away here and there to rejuvenate and just enjoy some quiet time.  Sometimes you have to get creative, but me time can be done. I have one mom friend who worked out a running schedule with two other moms on her street so that each mom gets to run alone a few days a week.  Many moms alternate child care to give each other some time to be alone.

Your mental health is important – for you and your kids.  Find your time and feel happy.

Get organized:

Bottom line:  Lack of organization leads to unnecessary stress.  Find a system that works for you (ask around and check online, there are some very creative moms out there with amazing ideas) and prioritize de-cluttering your home and your mind.

When you feel more control over the day-t0-day stressors that sometimes get you down, you will begin to feel more confident.  This leads to greater overall happiness for moms.

Weekly stress assessments:

Choose a day to check your stress each week.  Start with a list of your most common triggers, and add and delete as necessary.  Find a quiet moment to sit down and review how the week went.  Were you less stressed?  More?  What helped?  What didn’t?

Self assessments help people gain some control over their own well-being.  Assessments can help you shift from feeling completely overwhelmed to confident in your ability to thrive, no matter the circumstances.

Final thoughts:  When you feel confident, you feel happy.  When you let go of stress and take some control, you are more likely to experience more positive feelings overall.  And that’s the stuff that you want trickling down to your kids.

Don’t forget to stop by The Huffington Post for 7 Secrets of Highly Happy Children!!!!

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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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Feeling Lost in Mommyhood? (Tips for raising your mom-esteem)

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” –Eleanor Roosevelt

 

In my previous post, I addressed the idea that the overwhelming amount of external pressure in the world of Mommyhood can sometimes cause moms to suffer from low “Mom-Esteem” .  Being a parent is hard work and, even on a very good day, there is usually some amount of unpredicted stress that gets internalized throughout the day.

 

There seems to be a new level of mom competition out in the world today.  Moms are obsessively making comparisons, sharing their parenting stats, and commenting on the parenting styles of others.  It can be hard to know who your friends are with so much competition clouding the conversation.

 

And then there are the experts:  The grandparents, the friends and relatives with no kids, the people who seem to have the answers to all of the questions you never asked.

 

Add in the day-to-day stress of sickness, school issues, time management, trying to please others, trying to care for yourself, and, most of all, caring for your children, and you end up with multiple chances per day to see your mom-esteem plummet.  I know because I’ve been there.  Below are some tips to help you keep your mom-esteem high, even on the most tiring days:

 

1. Embrace your choices: You can’t please everyone.  This is not a new concept, but it is one that can be hard to remember.  Up until recently, I was a people pleaser.  I struggled to make decisions in my own best interest because it might upset someone I loved.  This past Fall I made a decision that some people close to me could not understand.  I made it because I had to put my kids first.  I had to do what was right for them.  Some people turned on me.  Some might never talk to me again.  That was when it really hit me:  You can’t please everyone.  As a mom, everything takes a backseat to your kids.  All important decisions come with the question, “what about the kids?”  It took this hard decision for me to realize that pleasing other people for a few hours isn’t reason enough to put my kids through something very stressful.  You can’t please everyone.  Feel good about your choices.  You made them for the right reasons.

2. Avoid comparisons: Sometimes we do it to ourselves; sometimes other people do it to us.  Either way, comparisons rarely end on a positive.  No two kids are the same.  No two moms are the same.  All families are different.  Comparing milestones, preschools, language development, and eating habits is useless.  Try to flip it.  Sharing strategies that helped you might really help another mom with a similar situation.  But if the comparisons just won’t stop despite an effort to focus on the positive, walk away.  You know that you’re doing your best on any given day.  That’s all you can do.

3. Accept compliments: It seems so simple, yet it can be so hard to do.  There’s something about motherhood that conditions us to credit everything good in our lives with a little luck.  You’re working hard every single day.  If someone notices that your kid shares well, has good manners, is respectful, that you handled a situation well, or even that your hair looks great…just say thank you.  You don’t need an excuse for your greatness.  You earned it (do I need to remind you about the endless night feedings, diapers, and bouts of the stomach flu you’ve endured?).  You’ve done the work; accept the praise that comes your way.

4. Choose wisely: Did you know that excessive complaining and negativity among women is actually contagious?  It’s true.  Studies have been done.  Everyone needs to vent and blow off steam, but if you find yourself in a friendship fueled by complaining and negativity, it might be best to take a break.  Try to surround yourself with positive friends who are willing to listen and show support, but who also know how to make you smile.  I have one girlfriend who quite literally lights up every room she enters.  Due to work schedules and kids we don’t get much alone time together, but when we do we spend the first 15 minutes discussing how happy we make each other.  At 36, I’ve finally learned that it’s ok to walk away from negativity.  I don’t have to be there for everyone, especially if other people are not willing to be there for me. Choose wisely.

5. Keep a small moments journal: Parenting is all about the small moments.  Days can be wonderful and days can be overwhelming, but there are always small moments of pure joy at some point during the day.  Capture them with your camera when you can, but use your words to remember the details.  I’m not talking about a lengthy essay, just a couple of sentences.  Like when your two year old finally figures out how to put the Mega Blocks together.  Or when your three year old draws a picture of the whole family.  Maybe it’s just a few funny comments you heard, or the first time your baby says, “I love you, Mommy”.  Look for the small moments of wonder each day and write them down.  Twenty years from now you won’t remember the sleep deprivation or the unfriendly comment that left you feeling defeated, but you will want to remember those little moments of happiness.

6. Challenge yourself: Whether or not you work in addition to being a mommy, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut.  When Sean was on tour I felt like I was just cycling through the same day over and over again.  This blog is as much a challenge for me as it is a creative outlet.  Every time I hit “post” I panic.  Will I get any comments?  Will they be positive or negative?  Does anyone even care?  But I truly enjoy the time spent doing the research, writing the articles, and communicating with other moms.  It can be a challenge to keep up with it, but it’s incredibly rewarding.  After years in the fashion industry, and then time spent at home, my best friend recently took a new job that is completely different than her previous life.  She’s doing really well and always sounds really positive when I ask her about it.  Whether it’s training for a 10K or taking an online class that interests you, try to challenge yourself.  I think you will find that you feel really good about yourself when you are able to step away from the routine, even for just a few hours a week.

7. Avoid personalizing: I have to admit that I struggle with this a lot.  Someone makes a comment intending to upset me, and I let it.  Sometimes even just a look can leave me feeling unsettled.  Here’s the thing:  You never truly know what someone else is going through.  On the days when I remember to just laugh things off or turn the other way, I always feel much better about myself.  At the end of the day, I know that I’m doing a great job as a mom.  If someone doesn’t agree with my parenting style it doesn’t mean that I’m wrong; it just means that we’re different.  Try not to personalize the comments, stares, and feedback.  Make that Eleanor Roosevelt quote your new mantra and release yourself of a huge burden.  You don’t have to take on other people’s negativity just because they’re dishing it out.

8. Find your outlet: I read.  A lot.  I sometimes drive Sean crazy (when he’s home at a decent hour) because I read by way of Kindle on my iPhone.  I hide under the duvet and cruise through chapter after chapter while I should be catching up on sleep.  I can’t help it.  It’s my outlet.  Years ago I was in a book group and loved it.  Sometimes we talked about the books, but often we spent the time catching up and talking about whatever was happening in the world at the time.  If I had the childcare, I would be back in a book group for sure.  I have a friend who has a monthly girls dinner out with a group of old friends.  She really looks forward to those dinners.  Another friend joined a running group and can’t get enough of it.  Find what works for you.  As much as we LOVE our kids, we also need a break once in a while.  Take one.  You deserve it.

9. Prioritize your marriage/relationship: Parenting can easily take up your whole life.  It’s wonderful and amazing and everything you ever wanted, but it’s a full time job.  It’s easy to put your marriage/relationship on the back burner.  Plan date nights.  Even staying home can be a date night.  Turn off all electronics, light a candle, eat at the TABLE (gasp!), and spend quality time talking and connecting.  It’s amazing how much a wonderful night with your significant other can truly help you forget about your stress and feel better about yourself.

10. Exercise: Believe me I know, it’s hard to find the time and the motivation.  But, wow, it feels good when you’re on a roll.  Whether you invest in the treadmill at home or find the YMCA (or gym) with the daycare, allow yourself some time a few days a week to get moving.  It’s good for your body, it will help you sleep, and it will rest your worried mind.  You do so much for everyone else; try to focus on you.

 

High mom-esteem won’t come overnight.  It’s a gradual process of changing your thinking, your responses, and your ability to put yourself first some of the time.  Hopefully some of my strategies will work for you.  If not, maybe this will inspire you to figure what will work for you. Everyday I work a little bit harder to try to turn away from negative input and focus on the small moments of success instead.  I hope you will give yourself permission to do the same.

 

You tell me:  What coping strategies work for you?