As a school psych, I hear it all the time, “I sure wish my kiddo could relax. He is soooooo active, just bounces off the walls. He just goes goes goes until he drops at night!” And I hear myself repeating these things over and over to help shift the situation. Here are the top 10 things I tell parents to get OUT of their lifestyle to begin to create a peaceful life. While I usually prefer to talk about what TO do, I think the brain sometimes wants it both ways to really help it to sink in. So, here goes.
1. SWEET tooth be gone. Sugar has creeped into our life in so many ways that it is creating havoc all over the place. Many of us don’t even know where it is. I was recently inspired as I read this blog post by Eve O. Shaub, (http://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/my-health-story/year-of-no-sugar-one-family-grand-adventure/ ). It gives excellent detain about what happened in her family as they let go of sugar (other than fruit), for an entire year. Sugar amps up the nervous system, causes inflammation, and generally stresses out our bodies overall. No need to make yourself crazy tracking it down in everything, just begin by cutting back a little. Cut out the candy every day and make it a “once in a while” sort of treat. Or switch to more natural sugars such as honey which actually contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that promotes serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for peaceful sleep and overall feelings of well-being.
2. FAST food doesn’t lead to FAST relaxation! Not only does fast food contain many ingredients that are hard for the body to process, it also requires extra time to process due to its complex make up. While it might be convenient, in the long run it is taxing on your child’s growing body and can cause more harm than good. Also, eating on the run promotes a hyped up nervous system and doesn’t support complete digestion. Making a point to sit down, to connect and to eat mindfully goes a long way to promoting a peaceful lifestyle. Like sugar, start to be mindful of your selection. It’s not about going “cold turkey” but rather, slowly shifting in the direction of peaceful living. Check out this parenting.com’s article on the healthiest fast food selections for kids: http://www.parenting.com/article/5-healthier-fast-food-choices-for-kids.
3. POP is the weasel! Cut out caffeine. Building upon numbers 1 and 2 above, begin to make soda pop a “special treat” rather than the norm. The fast food giants are beginning to get with the program as well, as noted in this post http://www.mommyish.com/2013/10/15/mcdonalds-to-take-soda-off-happy-meal-menu/.
4. Too much surprise! The brain likes predictability and routine. The central nervous system calms down as a result. One of the key things impacting kids’ anxiety is not having a predictable, steady routine in their life. When daily life is constantly changing and shifting and is full of surprises, the natural response of the limbic system in the brain is to try to regulate the un-expected by getting tense and on defense. One of the most calming factors you can do for your child is to set a routine and stick with it as much as possible. If there are changes that are coming up, make sure you give a heads up and prepare your child ahead of time through information and relaxation tools to adjust to the change.
5. Night owls! Not getting enough sleep promotes tension in the body. Your child needs restful sleep to calm down and to promote steady biorhythms within his little body. Establish a bed time and a routine to go with it. As stated above, routine helps the brain and the CNS to calm down and know that bedtime is approaching. For ideas on how much sleep is recommended for your child’s age group and fun bedtime routine activities, visit http://www.sleepforkids.org/html/sheet.html.
6. Busy Bees! Parents and kids these days are so very busy. Not slowing down to breathe and to just BE is a very big promoter of constant tension and stress. There are so many activities before and after school and on the weekends, that very little down time is built into the schedule. If you want your child to be able to calm down, it is important to practice being calm. Train the brain to be calm is just like working out, you must work out “calming down” in order to be able to calm down. So, take a breath. Hit the pause button. Begin to make a point to connect, genuinely look in your childs eyes daily and send the message “I see you.” Let go of a couple of activities that are more “shoulds” than “I really really want to” and build some relaxation time into your life with your kids.
7. No Fresh Air. Connecting with nature and the natural world is balancing for our bodies and minds. There is much research that shows that getting out in nature for a child is essential to healthy balance and connection in life. Here are a couple of my favorite books on the topic: The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places by Gary Paul Nabhan and Steven Trimble (http://www.amazon.com/The-Geography-Childhood-Children-Concord/dp/B009LQN18W) and Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv (http://www.amazon.com/Last-Child-Woods-Children-Nature-Deficit-ebook/dp/B0015DRPAY/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1397064387&sr=1-1&keywords=Last+Child+in+the+Woods). For some ideas on activities to do in nature check out this book: I Love Dirt: 52 Activities To Help You and Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature by Jennifer Ward (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Dirt-Activities-Discover-Wonders-ebook/dp/B00EYGHN24/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1397064460&sr=1-1&keywords=i+love+dirt).
8. Video Games. This year our school district began cracking down on violent talk and threats within the schools. I immediately had a line outside my door of kids who were threatening others by saying violent things. When I spoke more in depth with them about it, it was clear that many of them were repeating acts or things they had encountered in violent video games. Video games are de-sensitizing our kiddos. They no longer see shooting as “a big deal” and it becomes more “normal” in their minds. Last week I spoke with a five year old who had told another child he was going to “shoot people in the park”. It was clear that he had no intention of doing such a thing and hardly knew the meaning of what he was saying. What we put into our bodies and minds is important. Limit exposure to violent acts. Watch exposure to news reporting and discuss it if your child is watching it. Kids are learning all the time regardless. Be mindful of what you choose to allow your child to see–it makes an impression.
9. Couch Potato. Spending too much time on the couch or not getting enough exercise and movement allows the stress hormones to build up, sit and saturate within the body, causing more tension and inflammation. Get out and move with your kiddo. Walk the dog. Swim. Dance. Move with delight. Have fun!!
10. Stress Model. Modeling stressful thoughts, actions and lifestyle as a parent is speaking louder than your words. Kiddos, especially those that are very sensitive, are absorbing the environment around them. If you are running around, speeding (a habit that I am working to break), and modeling stress on a daily basis, then your child is learning from your example. Begin to take small steps to calm down. When you are practicing relaxation techniques or relaxing self talk, share it with your child, tell her what you are doing so that she can explicitly make the connection within her young mind.
Begin to incorporate these simple suggestions, (note, I didn’t say easy), into your life and your will begin to see peace and calm return. Happy Relaxing!!!