As summer begins to fade and the aisles of the stores overflow with pencils, crayons, and notebooks for back to school, I feel the need for a public service announcement. In a society that makes parents believe that in order to be good parents we must buy MORE, sign up for MORE, and do MORE for our kids, this school year I officially give you permission to STOP THE INSANITY!
Every day as parents we are bombarded with information overload about what our children need to be successful. It is a vicious cycle. We wake up in the morning feeling like we are nurturing well-adjusted humans but by lunch, we are in a tail spin thinking they are woefully behind! It feels more like walking a tight rope. One wrong decision to the left or right and that’s it…your kid is a loser!
If you are familiar with the Disney movie “Cars”, then you know the beloved VW van character Fillmore. Although Fillmore may still be experiencing the 1960s in a very intense way, I have adopted his famous line, “It’s all a pack of lies man”. We have bought into the belief that MORE things and busyness for our kids equals greater success in life. In the process, we have created more problems than could have ever been foreseen.
In my practice over the years I have watched as many families are sucked into the vortex of what I have labeled with a very clinical diagnosis… “excessive unnecessary busyness”. This pace of life that we have created for our families has created true mental health problems that would not be there otherwise.
Day in and out, I see exhausted parents with situational anxiety and depression. Marriages under distress due to lack of time together and financial obligations to keep all these kid programs spinning. Elementary children who have a schedule and pressures greater than a world class surgeon. Not to mention that every member of the family is disconnected because the unit is pulled from one direction to the other.
My family is no stranger to the vortex. Tornadoes are rated on the Fujita scale from F0 weak to F5 violent. At various stages along our path the winds would approach F5 status and I felt like the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz would surely come blowing by me at any moment!
These moments of intensity were the times that we made major adjustments to our family routine. Sometimes the tweaks were small, like taking a time out for a family day. However, a few of them were huge changes and very counter to the current culture. Initially the changes were not always popular with our kids and garnered more than a few raised eyebrows from our friends and family. However, the peace that these changes brought in our home was worth more than going with the flow.
As you stock your cart with all the back to school supplies. Here is a list of FIVE gifts that you need to help support mental wellness and peace in your family this year and beyond. Pick up as much as you need because it is all FREE!
Gift of Love : I am a huge fan of the Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. If you are not familiar this is a definite read. The heart of this theory is that we each have a primary love language that we use to give and receive love. Knowing the primary love language of each member of your family can truly have a remarkable impact on relationships. The five love languages are: acts of service, quality time, gifts, words of affirmation, and physical touch. For adults and older kids you can use the online assessment to discover their primary love language.
We can never assume that our kids just know we love them. They need to hear the verbal “I Love You”, they need our attention, they need the physical hugs and kisses. Seeing written notes in their lunch box or a card for no special occasion may be just what they need to push through a hard day.
They also need to see you demonstrate this with others whether it be your spouse, mother, siblings or others. Even when children seem as if they do not want your affection DO IT! This is probably when they most need it.
Gift of Play: This is UNPLUGGED play. Please …please …get your children outside. Take a walk, go to the park, or go on a bike ride. The act of being with nature is calming and healing. Just last week I heard the most wonderful sound of laughter and it was my three teenagers playing hide and go seek!
Quality time is a catch phrase in our society that has lulled us into believing that the amount of time no longer matters. Both quality and quantity of time are important. Spend as much time with your children as possible without screens involved. Having your children in the same room while you watch TV or scroll on your phone is not time together. While occasional family movie night is fun, do other activities that encourage talking and interaction.
If you have young children get down and enter their world. For babies and toddlers that means letting them take the lead and a lot of repetition of the same game. For preschoolers this means lots of make believe and movement. For older kids try instituting family game nights. It is amazing to me how many children do not know how to play board games!
Gift of Consistency: This comes in two ways. First by helping your children from a young age develop good routines. Children need to learn there are times in the day for work, play, sleeping and eating. THIS INCLUDES TEENS. The current lack of sleep and nutrition that many teens are allowed is a huge mental health risk. Kids may try to buck routine, but they truly crave it because it gives them a sense of security.
The second part is consistent rules and consequences. Imagine how frustrated and confused you would be each day if the speed limit signs on your route to work constantly changed. Kids need consistent expectations and to know ahead of time what the consequence will be.
Gift of being Positive: If you are the typical parent by the end of the day you feel like a rap star. NO… STOP …DON’T… QUIT… over and over. This is a tough habit to break but one worth investing. Instead of asking a child to stop the negative ask them to do the positive. Example: Instead of saying “Don’t run” try “Walk Please”. Instead of “We don’t want to be late” try “Let’s go, we want to be on time”. Helping your child develop a positive outlook will help them use positive self-talk to navigate their days.
Gift of Healthy Parents: This should be the number one priority, but I put it last because that is where most parents put their health. I so often hear…’I don’t have time for myself”. The reality is you will have NO time if you do not make this a priority.
In the 1800s people in the US died of contagious diseases. Today, stress is the main cause of many of our health issues. If we do not take care of our physical and emotional needs, we will not be able to parent our kids at our optimal level.
Get your yearly physicals and take care of your body so that you can run, play, and keep up with not only your kids but one day your grandkids. Most chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease are preventable by making better food and lifesyle choices. If the pharmaceutical industry created a pill with the benefits of exercise, we would ALL buy it, yet very few Americans get enough movement in their days.
Mental wellness begins at conception! Any parent who is struggling with high levels of stress or other mental health impairments is not able to connect and engage with children in health ways. Mothers who suffer from untreated depression and anxiety during pregnancy are more likely to have children with mental health issues. In addition, high levels of stress in the home increases the risk for angry outbursts resulting in verbal and physical abuse. Speak up and seek help not only for yourself but also for the future mental well being of your child.
As we learned from the reformed Grinch, in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the best things in life come without ribbons, without tags, without packages, boxes or bags! Yes, academics and activities are important, but we must help our kids to find balance in their lives. Otherwise, they will just be running to their graves with little enjoyment along the way.
I challenge you this school year to view success in a new way and just “BE” together. You are the most important thing that your child needs, and YOU are ENOUGH.
As always, until next time may you be well, may you be loved, and may you know true peace.
The purpose of this blog is to offer educational information related to mental wellness. Resiliency Counseling & Consulting, PLLC and Melissa Harrell do not offer diagnosis or treatment through this medium. If you feel that you or a family member needs to access mental health services, first contact your primary care physician for assessment and direction in your area. If you need immediate help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.