Connecting With Your Kids and Eliminating Stress

Today’s families move at warp speed, running straight from school to soccer, then on to hockey and wrapping up the daily running at gymnastics – all before settling in for the evening. Somewhere during all that running they have to find time to eat dinner, do homework, take showers, and try to get to bed at a reasonable hour. This is a daily ritual for most families these days, and all of the running and pressure can increase stress and anxiety tremendously for every member of the family. In order to survive and live a calmer, happier lifestyle, families need to collaborate more and find a way to balance these daily stresses.

As a child care provider, I see parents that are obviously exhausted and already completely stressed when they drop off their children in the morning – most before 8 am! That means they have at least twelve more hours of stress and anxiety to look forward to before they can stop and unwind.

My mother never told me how difficult life could be. She didn’t explain that working, running a home and taking care of a family required a well maintained balancing act in order to be successful. In her defense, she probably didn’t know what I and most other mothers out there would be facing. She was from a different era. My mom didn’t work outside of the house. She spent the day ironing and cleaning, and preparing dinner. Our entire family ate dinner promptly at 5:00 p.m. and we engaged in intelligent conversations. Those were the days! It was pleasant and peaceful and we didn’t rush. My siblings and I weren’t involved in sports, because they just weren’t really important back then. We had one phone in the house, and that was the only way to communicate with the outside world. And no call waiting or voice mail! If you missed the phone call from that special someone, then you didn’t have a date for the night. It was a simple as that.

Today, children have cell phones, and they are either talking or texting constantly! They have computers and instant message each other, and most have either a MySpace page or a Facebook account, if not both. Some kids have even made their own YouTube videos. Social media has become extremely important and everything is out there to be viewed in cyberspace. My children know what their friends are doing from minute to minute. Personal information about likes, dislikes, favorite music and boyfriends is just a click away. Kids can text and type at lightning speed, but I can’t help but wonder if all this technology is helping them or hurting them. As an adult I’m overwhelmed by the constant stimulation of the technical world we live in. Checking e-mails even after the work day has ended, waiting for faxes and phone calls. The faster technology becomes, the more rushed we are. People expect instant gratification because technology has made it possible! If, as an adult who has had years of experience learning to balance and juggle the different pieces of the puzzle that make up my life, I am overwhelmed and stressed, then how must the kids of today feel? In my opinion, these kids are more stressed than we ever were. They are becoming less social, less fit, and less imaginative.

Video games surely help a child’s hand/eye coordination, but they also desensitize their view of death, pain and what it is to feel empathy for his or her fellow man. As a result of the new instant messaging and texting language that has evolved, the writing ability of many of today’s kids is sloppy, their spelling is atrocious, and their ability to construct a sentence is less than mediocre. It is easy to socialize via the internet, behind the anonymity of an avatar in the comfort of a bedroom or living room, but a face to face conversation is a very different thing. I have witnessed many children who seem to ooze confidence online, and then shrink in a group of their peers. Many would think the ability to socialize would be innate, but for some children, it is an issue that needs to be addressed and practiced like any other skill.

In my opinion as a child care provider at Majestic Harbor School, I believe that families need to balance their time together. A daily meeting at dinner or any scheduled time is both important and very valuable. You can recap your child’s day with them, find out about their friends, their grades, their joys and their struggles. Believe it or not, you can get to know your child at the dinner table.

Families should also schedule a weekly meeting at the start of each week. During this time you can discuss each family member’s schedule for the week, such as sporting events or practices, lessons, important tests and homework assignments that need to be completed or studied for. You have meetings at work to make sure everyone is on the same page, right? The same tactic will help eliminate some of the confusion out of your family life. At our weekly meeting, we fill out a dry erase calendar that we keep on our refrigerator. The calendar contains each family member’s appointments, assignments, etc. so that we can all keep track of each other and ourselves. It’s so easy to forget things. This is a dependable, fixed location that we can return to all week to help remind us of our schedules. During these meetings, my husband and I also take time to recognize the accomplishments of our children. Whether we are cheering them good test grades, praise from a teacher, or that they simply did a good deed, we make sure that they are praised at home for their triumphs. Our children glow with pride at the recognition and it makes them strive to earn more praise.

I have also noticed a number of children who are overweight, due largely to excessive television and/or video gaming, too much time on the computers, and too much sedentary time in general. These children are not exercising daily and often are not learning good eating habits. Parents need to establish a plan that sets aside time to exercise daily. Perhaps the entire family could take a walk after dinner. It would be yet another opportunity for your family to bond and spend some uninterrupted time together. Parents must make a conscious effort to limit computer, television and all other internet access. Encourage your child to read, do their homework or find something to do that requires intellectual and creative stimulation.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are those children who play too many sports. Their afternoons, evenings and weekends are completely filled with athletics. They barely have time to fit in their homework and personal hygiene! Often, when these children do have some free time, they have no idea what to do with it because they are accustomed to constant activity and entertainment. Athletics are important, as they keep your child busy, physically fit and away from drugs and alcohol. Equally important, however, are grades and academic success. A solid education is the key to your child’s future. It will determine their success later in life. Encouraging homework and establishing good study habits will teach your children skills that they will take with them throughout their life.

If you have more than one child, make time to spend with each of your children individually. It will mean a so much to your child to have your undivided attention – even if they are too cool to admit it. You may learn some new things about them and their lives. Things you can’t learn on their MySpace page!

The only way to strengthen your family unit is for you as a parent to make an effort to do so. Follow through on your plans. Prepare for your family meetings and hold them on the day and time that everyone expects. You may find that your family looks forward to these meetings. You will definitely find that they help keep you organized and under control.

Each family is different. Find something that works for yours. My family ends our day by coming together at bedtime and we saying prayers together. It takes less than 3 minutes to do, but brings us closer together and gives us comfort. We all give each other a kiss and say good night. It ends the day on a positive note, and any stress, negativity or upset is put behind us. The older I get, I understand more and more that it is the little things like this that mean so much. I could buy them a bike tomorrow, and they may or may not play with it. Once the newness fades, the bike sits idle. Even the memory of it will most likely be forgotten as my children grow up. The special lunches at the mall, the nightly prayers, and family dinners together that strengthen the bond between us will be remembered by my kids long after I’m gone.

Just remember, your children are grateful to have you, even if they don’t say it. Let them know that they are loved and appreciated, guide them and make time for them, and they will flourish. As a parent, you will feel proud, less stressed and accomplished knowing that you are maintaining a positive, happy environment for your family.

Beth Costanzo M Ed
Majestic Harbor School
Gloucester, MA. 01930

Beth Costanzo holds a Masters Degree in Education, and is the owner and operator of Majestic Harbor Community School I and II. She is also the creator of the Adventures of Scuba Jack which is an interactive learning system for preschoolers comprised of educational dvds, on-line curriculum, workbooks and coloring books. For more information on The Adventures of Scuba Jack visit www.theadventuresofscubajack.com.