Help Your Kids Lighten Their Load
Experts say there's plenty that parents can do to help their kids dial down the stress.
Here are some steps you can take right now:
1. Don't force-feed stimulation. Overloading toddlers and preschoolers with structured learning won't make them geniuses, but it may make them anxious, says Indiana University early-education professor Mary McMullen. Instead, encourage imaginative play and engage them in spontaneous activities, such as reading, talking, singing, or going for walks and outings.
2. Watch out for teen overload. Mental-health experts advise parents to check their teens' schedules to make sure they're not overcommitted, and to impress upon them that not being No. 1 in sports and school doesn't mean they're failures.
3. Manage your own stress. In order to be a good role model for your children, says parent educator Yvonne Gustafson, set aside a few minutes after coming home from work to decompress before interacting with your kids -- even if it means pulling over a block from the house and sitting quietly in your car.
4. Use exercise to avoid meltdowns. A regular family walk before or after dinner not only reduces tension, but also gives kids and parents time to talk about their day, says Gustafson.
5. Emphasize togetherness. Instead of letting your kids play video games or surf the Internet alone in their rooms, coax them into playing a game or make some popcorn and watch a movie together, suggests psychologist Edward Christophersen. Isolation is a key source of stress.
(Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, June 2004.)