Six Tips to Help Reduce Our Children’s Stress During the School Year

young mother praising daughter doing homework at desk

As our children are heading back to school, they may already appear a little more stressed.   Children that are in middle school and high school know that in the near future they will have hours of homework, papers and tests. If your children are in high school, they may already be dealing with college applications or SAT and ACT prep.  Many of our children will also be participating in sports, drama, science teams, newspaper and other extra curricular activity. The minute these demands fall upon our children they can become irritable, sleep less and you may notice things getting out of whack with family life at home. There is certainly a lot to explore regarding whether our children are being overworked and whether school homework policies should be examined. But what can we do for our children right now and during the rest of the school year to help them be less stressed and worried? The following are some helpful tips that won’t take all the work away, but will at least help our kids relax more, release some stress and stay focused and get their work done.

1. Give your child some Maybe Statements. Sometimes when our children get stressed it is because they feel stuck or things are not going their way. They don’t realize in the moment that life will always change again and their future is not doomed if some things at school are difficult or not working out the way they would like. Remind them that as bad as things may look or feel, there is always the possibility that Maybe what is happening will turn out to be good, Maybe things will get better, or Maybe they can accept what is happening and still be OK. Thoughts of Maybe will help your child to return to the present more peacefully and get their work done with less stress and worry. Tailor a variety of Maybe statements to your child’s situation: “Even though Math was difficult last year, Maybe this year things will improve”; “Maybe I will make some new friends this school year”; “Maybe some new ideas will come to me and I can finish my college applications”; or “Maybe everything is okay regardless of all my worries.” Help your children create a habit of keeping Maybe statements close at hand so they will be prepared when stress and worry arise.

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A Simple Technique to Help Relieve your Child’s Stress and Worry

Mass pencils

My daughter came to me the other night worried about all of the obligations she had at school.  She wondered if she would get more homework than she could handle. She was also nervous about doing poorly on her history test the next day.  She asked if everything would work out and if she would be okay.

Many of us have had these moments with our kids when they become anxious and worried about the future or even just their homework. Our children can worry about everything from global warming, war and famine to exams and friendships.

The first thing I do is ask my child if she is okay in this moment. She usually takes a moment and says, “I think so.”

Then, I ask her to jump up and down, do some jumping jacks, push ups, head rolls and shoulder shrugs for a few minutes. This gets her a little out of her head and more in her body.

Next I ask her if she is absolutely certain that what she is worrying about will happen. She always answers, “no I am not absolutely certain.” Then I say, “Well if you are not absolutely certain then that means something else could happen. Maybe even something good. Maybe you will be able to handle your homework, and Maybe you will do well on your test.  Why worry that it will be bad when it also could be good!”

Then, I say, “And even if things don’t work out exactly as you want them to, the next moment will offer you Maybe once again. There’s an unlimited range of possibilities for your future!  

She responded “Mom, thanks! I feel a lot better. Maybe everything will be okay. And if it does not work out, with Maybe there is always another possibility. That feels good.”

It works like a charm every time!!

If your child is a little older it is sometimes effective to have them write their worries down on a piece of paper.  Then ask them to write the sentence, “Are you absolutely certain this will happen?” Usually the answer is no and then they can challenge their worries with a few Maybe statements such as:  Maybe my beliefs about my situation are not true;  Maybe what is happening is good; Maybe what is happening can get better; Maybe everything will work out fine.  Ask your child how these Maybe Statements make them feel?  Does your child feel more hopeful? Does your child see that the situation can work out differently than he or she was fearing? Try to review these statements with them a few times each day.  If you can, have them add more Maybe statements that challenge their stress and worry about the current situation.

Have them keep their attention on these Maybe statements the next few days and see what happens to their fears and worries. Maybe your child will be pleasantly surprised!

Seeing The World As A Mother

Mother Day Heart Clouds on Orange Background

Today I walked around New York City for a few hours, very quietly observing the people that passed me by. Maybe because Mother’s Day is Sunday, I thought about each person I saw as someone’s child. I thought about what their mothers may have dreamed for them in their lives. I watched an elderly woman and wondered how long it has been since she hugged her mother. How would her mother feel watching her child limp down the block as an eighty-year-old woman? I imagined a homeless man’s mother. Does she know where he is? How did he become homeless? I even saw an angry middle-aged man and thought, would a hug from his mother make a difference?

What happened to me today when I saw everyone as someone’s child? My heart split open with compassion. I thought about how each person’s mother would want the world to treat her child. I thought about the kindness I hope my children will experience in the world when I am not around or when I leave this earth. Suddenly I started to cry. I imagined the heartbreak and joy every mother must have experienced with each person I passed and the hope that her child would be okay in the world. My heart opened so wide that all I could do was smile at people, hold a door a few seconds longer and make small talk wherever I went. Even though these were small acts of kindness, I had the larger realization that I need to treat each person that I meet each day the same way I want the world to treat my children.

For the few remaining days before Mother’s Day, Maybe you can try this practice when you are at work, running errands or just walking around town. We can have much more compassion and kindness when we see everyone we meet as someone’s child. It certainly keeps the love coming!

As mothers, if we can open our hearts to the world, Maybe it is the beginning of creating a more caring and loving society?  Just Maybe.





Helping Our Children Feel Less Stressed and Worried About Their Future

Palm with a tree growing from pile of coins

When the Boston Marathon tragedy occurred a few months ago, my friend’s daughter came home crying. She was frightened for her own safety and the safety of the people she loves. She worried that the world would never be at peace. Her mother told me that she knew her daughter needed to feel sadness for what happened, but was concerned that this was yet another event that would increase her daughter’s negative perspective on life. Another friend’s daughter was very upset about what happened in Boston, but she still felt safe and remained hopeful that people are good and we can all
 find a way to live more peacefully. Both children were clearly affected, but one child despaired and the other still felt hopeful. 
Of course there are many different reasons these two children reacted differently, including their past experiences, family life and even genetic makeup. However, regardless of all of those factors, the future of each child’s emotional and mental well-being will be dictated by their perspective toward life.

As parents, what can we do to help our children maintain an open and hopeful view about all they will face every day? Over the years, I developed the following exercise for my children after reading about an experiment in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche. I like to use it when they are stuck and not achieving a particular goal, but its implications are much more far reaching.

Ask your child to pick up a coin. Ask them to imagine that the coin represents whatever is bothering him or her. Sometimes they are upset about a bad grade, a tragic event or problems with friends. The last time I did it with my daughter she was upset about not doing well on a test. She is very concerned with her grades and sometimes fears when something goes wrong that she won’t get into a good college or achieve her life goals. I asked her to hold a coin tightly clutched in her fist and extend her arm, with the palm of her hand facing the ground. I told her the coin she was holding represented her life’s goals and all that is possible.  The way she was holding it, so tightly in this example, shows her belief that she could only achieve her life goals and get into a good college if she did well on this test.  I then had her let go and relax her grip and the coin fell to the ground.  I explained that it is simply too hard and painful to hold on to anything so tightly with the belief that there is only one way.

Then I said Maybe there is another possibility here: Maybe you can let go of the coin and still keep hold of it. With her arm still outstretched, I asked her to turn her hand over so that her palm faced the sky. I then asked her to relax her hand and see if the coin still rested in her open palm. She let go and the coin was still there resting in her hand. I reminded her that holding the coin this way, relaxed in her palm, represents all the possibilities in her future, including achieving her goals in life no matter how she does on this or any future test. It allowed her to keep her dream of being successful regardless of this particular test or any other event in her life; she needn’t grasp it so tightly.

This experiment shows children that life doesn’t have to unfold one way, but instead there is open space in which life may unfold in many different ways and result in joy and success.  

It seems simple but this Maybe exercise teaches our children to hold the very thing they want but also leave space and room for other possibilities.  If our children can learn the skill of looking at life other ways, opening up and
 letting go will be less scary and more inviting. It allows our children to maintain their dreams and goals while experiencing the twists and turns of the journey of life.

As for my friend’s daughter that was scared and worried about her future after the Boston Marathon tragedy, this exercise helped her see that there were many possibilities for the future including being safe and helping to achieve a more peaceful society.  It gave her back some hope and sometimes that is all it takes to change a perspective and MAYBE change the world.