For many parents, our day begins with running around to get ourselves and our kids ready for the day. We drop them off at school or daycare, then rush to work to juggle various tasks to accomplish our goals. At the end of a hectic work day, we pick up the kids to shuffle them to lessons or sports. We then trudge home to make dinner, help complete homework, or tidy up the house, hoping to then throw ourselves into bed by 10 or 11 pm to get enough rest for the next day. Sometimes we fall asleep quickly, but many times sleep eludes us as we lie in bed thinking of our to-do lists. Once we finally fall asleep, after what seems like minutes, the alarm goes off and wakes us up to start the process over again.
Adults juggle many daily stressors, but we have also found ways to help us relax and unwind. Some of us go to the gym, the spa, or take a personal day. Some drop the kids off and take the day to enjoy a quiet lunch alone or take in a movie. Many adults enjoy an evening cocktail or glass of wine to help themselves unwind. While these are all great ways to relax and help ourselves regroup, what are we doing to help our kids relax and de-stress?
Every morning we pull them from bed and get them to school where they sit and learn for at least 8 hours, have projects, tests, tasks, and social issues that they worry about. After school, they compete in sports or go to lessons where they are again challenged to work their hardest and do their best. They then go home in the evening where they have just enough time to complete homework and eat dinner before bedtime. Like many adults, children lie in bed thinking about their tasks list and the issues they will face the next day. Unlike adults, children do not have as many choices for ways to decompress, and oftentimes, due to their age and lack of experience, many of their issues/problems seem overwhelming, causing them great anxiety and stress.
Did you know that studies show that many of the headaches and stomachaches students present with in school are actually caused by anxiety and stress, not physical illness? The association between anxiety and stress and physical illness in children is so prevalent that even physicians have begun to take notice. Doctors like Nadine Burke Harris at the Centers Youth Wellness in San Francisco have begun screening children for traumatic experiences as they have found a positive correlation between trauma/stress and manifestation of physical illness. Her clinical research has found a direct link between childhood stressors like abuse, divorce, financial hardship, mental illness, etc. and childhood illnesses like asthma exacerbation, chronic headaches and stomachaches, obesity, frequent illness, and poor impulse control.
So while adults are finding ways to cope with our own daily stressors, let us ask what we can do to help our kids unwind. Many of the things that help us can also help our children. Some suggestions are to go for an evening walk, give your child a chance to talk about their day at dinner or before bed (this includes what they enjoyed as well as things they are concerned about and to help them think about rational solutions), play relaxing music, or partake in a fun craft or activity.
If your child suffers from any chronic conditions or any of these symptoms, try some of these stress management strategies. You may find that they may help lessen some of the recurring conditions you may be seeing in your child. And if they do not help with the physical illness, they will have at least given you some quality time for you and your child to de-stress together.
By Nerissa Conley, R.N., PEL-CSN
Ms. Conley is Morgan Park Academy’s school nurse.