Stressed Out

Have you ever seen your child stressed out?

My boys participate in their school play. One acts in the play, the other is in stage crew. Both want to do a good job each year, all the kids do. Mistakes always happen — sometimes ones you can easily recover from (e.g. someone walks out on stage at the wrong time, but quickly gets themselves back off), some not (e.g. someone says the wrong long line and it throws everyone else off — the kids struggle with whether they should pick up at the new spot or try to get the scene restarted where it should have). For the kids it is stressful. For the parents, it’s hard to notice (because you aren’t as aware of every single line, object placement and timing of everything like those participating are), and hard to console once you’ve realized it happens (e.g. upset kids after the show).  You try saying, “You did a great job!” and “You made a mistake? Well, no one noticed” which is often times true, but to the kids, they feel embarrassed, disappointed, sad, and/or angry. I’ve had mild success in getting them to acknowledge that performing and supporting the cast, regardless of mistakes, takes guts; and that the experience is supposed to be something they enjoy not fret over. They appease me with mumble’s of “okay, Mom” or “yea, we get it,” but it’s not convincing. Once the play is over, the stress disappears replaced by relief which is interesting to tangibly see — smiles on their faces, bodies less tense, more willing to engage — it got me thinking about my husband and I and our own stresses and how that must come across to our kids.

I sometimes think I didn’t know what stress was until I became a parent — the kids are not the cause; I am. I want to be present with my kids, teach them things, have fun and enjoy parenthood. At the same time, juggling a job and the increase in household responsibilities (meals, cleaning, carpooling, etc.) requires energy which gets depleted with so many things needing to get done. Being a parent can sometimes feel like a performance too. We are moving things (much like a stage crew) and do our own ‘acting’ when we put on a brave or ‘everything’s fine’ face in front of others when we are in fact tired, strained, and stressed.  Throw on what’s going on in our country politically, and the stress can feel overwhelming. When I force myself to relax I notice that I hold my shoulders high and my jaw tensed. Amazing that I don’t realize this or feel it until I’m forced to take a few deep breaths and lower my shoulders and loosen my jaw. I wonder what that looks like to my kids seeing Mom more relaxed, more easily smiling and more willing to engage then just trying to get through to what’s next. My guess is they prefer it to stressed out Mom, who is more snippy and less present.

My kids have once again reminded me of things I need to work on. Step 1) Notice stress, Step 2) Let it go. I’m much happier (not to mention more pleasant to be around) when I do this.

How do you handle stress? How do you help your child handle theirs?

 

Cast Away

Has your child ever tried out for something–position on a sport, part in a play, chair in the band, part in the choir –and wished they had tried for another later?

My youngest son has been in his school’s play every year since kindergarten. Each year, the students in grades K-2 are given support roles, for the most part, they are background characters that participate in small, but meaningful ways — singing songs or milling about as if they are part of a larger crowd.  The older kids, in grades 3-5, get priority for the roles with speaking parts with the highest grade getting highest priority.

My son, who is in the third grade decided to try out for a speaking part, but was clear he didn’t want to be a main character in this year’s production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He and I practiced the lines he was given. He put extra effort into playing a convincing Mr. Bucket (Charlie’s dad) for his audition, but when the cast list came out he learned he would play the part of an Oompa Loompa. He was very disappointed. I asked him ‘why?’ He gave me a look that said ‘give-me-a-break-mom-you-know-why.’ After I stayed quiet for a few moments he said, “It’s embarrassing. I’ll barely have any lines.”  “But I didn’t think you wanted many lines?” I said. “I said I didn’t want to be a main main character like Charlie or Willy Wonka,” he shared. “Okay, well, we’ll have to let the director know that next year so she knows you’re interested in a role with more lines,” I finished.

Our exchange reminded me of times in my life when I held myself back from really going for something — trying for a top position/seat on a team, or singing a solo at church to name a few. I often regretted not going for it afterwards. While there was some relief in knowing I wouldn’t be embarrassed if I failed, I was disappointed I didn’t push myself to try harder and show the talent I really had — not so others would understand my potential, but that I would.

My son will have another opportunity next year to try out for a part in the play, and I will encourage him to really go for it and see what he can accomplish. I’ll be able to remind him of what happens when you hold yourself back — you just don’t know what you’re capable of.

What do you do when your child tries to ‘cast’ off really going for a tough role or part? How do you encourage them to work through their reluctance so they can see their full potential?

What, no TV?

It’s summertime, and our kids have more free time on their hands. They are in camps during the week, but when they are not at camp all they want to do is watch TV.

When I was a kid, I wanted to watch TV 24×7 if my parents would allow it. I can remember one particular summer my mom told me that my sisters and I that our TV time would be limited to three hours a day. Three hours a day, that’s outrageous! There’s so much we’ll be missing! I thought. I can remember discussing this decision with my neighbor friend whose mom was trying something similar with he and his sister. “It’s not fair,” we both agreed. I can’t recall how closely the TV time was held to, but do recall we were prompted to play outside more, and it was okay to be bored.

With my own kids, my husband and I were noticing a trend…if allowed, our sons would watch TV 24×7. The TV seemed to be on any time we were inside the house. It was becoming a problem. While I hated the idea of restricting my kids TV time to three hours (because I could remember how much I hated it as a kid), I knew it was what we were ultimately going to have to do.

My husband and I sat down our kids and talked to them about limiting their TV time. Our conversation was met with “What?” “That’s not fair!” “You’re so mean!” “We’re going to be so bored!” This was expected, but still not easy to hear. “Guys, we’re not doing you any favors by letting you sit around and watch TV all the time, there is too much life to live, and you’re not living it if you sitting on a couch.” My sons may not have liked our message, but they understood it. “What are we going to do to pass the time?” my son asked. “You’ll have to figure that out. You can ride your bike, play out in the backyard, create something with your Lego, there’s all sorts of things you can do, it’s really up to you.”

We started our new schedule, and it was hard for everyone. It took some getting used to. It’s still taking some getting used to, but what I found was when my husband and I were firm with what would be allowed (e.g. if you watch three hours of TV first thing in the morning, that’s it.) we saw that our boys could adjust…it might be done begrudgingly, but they could do it.

I’ve seen them be more creative with their time since we implemented the change. There have been days when the three hours have been exceeded, but it’s been the exception. With summer vacation here, our timing feels right — there is so much to do, explore and see, it would be a shame if it were mostly spent inside.

Have you ever had to limit screen time? What worked for you? What helped your child make the adjustment?

Happy Fourth! I’ll be taking time off with the family and will be back following.

Puppet Show

What do you do to jumpstart your activity in the New Year?  No, I don’t mean what exercise regiment have you started, but how do you rebound from all the activity around the holidays and then those few days of calm between Christmas and New Years, where things seem to slow down, things become calmer, and you have some time to breathe?

It’s not uncommon for my ‘jumpstart’ to take place sometime several weeks into the year. I yearn to hold onto the slowness and peaceful state-of-mind I feel those days at the end of the year, and look ahead to the next time I’ll get to experience that feeling again. Thinking of future vacations helps.

My kids are much more eager to get back into the swing of things than I…seeing their friends at school and resuming activities seems to get their energy back up.

On a workday morning not long into the New Year, I was overwhelmed with everything that had to be accomplished in the day ahead. I was eager to get the kids going so I could start getting through my lists of “to-dos”. My youngest son didn’t want to get ready, and was adamant about not getting out of bed.  As I assessed the situation two choices came to mind: 1) I can get frustrated, and start to dole out consequences (potentially ruining my day, and my sons), or 2) do something different.  As I was assessing the situation and deciding what to do next, I happened to notice a puppet on the floor in my son’s room.  Hmmm…could a puppet help me do something different to prompt my son along? 

I picked up the puppet, a fluffy plush cat puppet and brought the cat to life. “Hmmm, I don’t want to get ready, I just want to sit in bed all day long and do nothing,” I said in a cat voice, “I’ll just sit here all day. I don’t care if I get dirty, I don’t care if I don’t learn anything. I’m going to do what I want.” My son was amused. Using the puppet brought a smile to my face. Engaging him in this way was helping me experience a creative energy I hadn’t felt since before the holidays. I continued, “Too bad I’ll only be known as plain old Fluffy, but at least I get to stay in my bed.” I had the cat pause for a moment and then had Fluffy take on a new and improved persona. “Hmmm, maybe I will get dressed after all. I’ll brush my teeth and make my bed. I’ll go to school and I’ll learn and I’ll do BIG things. I’m going to be Fluffy the Fabulous,” I added with gusto. Fluffy was going places, and my son was eager to follow.  I asked my son, “which Fluffy are you going to be today? Plain old Fluffy or Fluffy the Fabulous?” He considered my questions momentarily and replied, “Fluffy the Fabulous, of course.” We both giggled and he finally started to get himself ready.

Sometimes it just takes a moment to wipe away the dreary and get pep back in your step. Who knew a simple puppet could make that happen?

What is giving you energy in the New Year?