When I think of things that always seem to put life into proper perspective I think of the holidays…and children.
Inside: Learn the surprising way to teach gratitude to children that raises kids who live gratefully all year long.
One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions since having children is going around the table before the big meal, each sharing three things we’re grateful for. It’s eye-opening and heartwarming as a parent to hear the kids vocalize the things that mean the most to them in the world.
I’m not trying to worry you.
Well, maybe a little.
It’s only because I want to make sure you know what’s at stake when you’re raising a wild child.
Shear terror comes over me when I realize I have no other choice but to bring all 3 of my small kids along to the grocery store.
If I had a quarter every time I mused the thought, ‘Gosh, If these kids would just listen to me, things would be so much easier!’, to myself (or to my husband), I’d be a rich lady.
Inside: Beyond school supplies and a new outfit for the first day, it’s easy to miss the one thing kids truly need to have a successful back to school transition.
“I don’t want to go to school mom”.
There was still a good 3 weeks of summer left so my 9-year-olds comment caught me a tad off guard.
I asked her what she was feeling unsure about.
“None of my friends are in my class and what if all the other kids are mean?”
She was right. When we had checked in with other family friends we realized none of her close friends would be in her class for the fourth grade.
She had handled it seemingly well at the time but apparently, after reflecting on what the reality of that was actually going to look like, her anxieties began to set in.
The best way to get your child’s school year started on the right foot
Getting a child prepared for their school year means far more than just buffing up on multiplication facts over the summer.
Clearly, academics are centerstage in school, but there’s another critical piece to your child’s learning, and without it, your child’s school experience will be greatly comprised.
Listening will be more difficult.
Focusing will be more of a challenge.
Memory and cognition will suffer.
So what is this necessary ingredient to school success and well-being?
How learning works in the brain
There’s a reason interactions like the one I had with my daughter occur in millions of households at the start of every school year.
Starting school is BIG transition for kids and just like we adults feel uncertain on the first day of a new job, our kids have anxiety about the uncertainties of the year ahead.
Studies show that when a child’s brain is being affected by anxiety or any strong emotion, the area of their brain responsible for logical thought and cognition (as well as memory!) is compromised as a result.
This is why we ‘can’t think straight’ when we’re upset, worried or under pressure. The frontal cortex or ‘higher thinking brain’ quite literally isn’t as accessible as it would be if your child was emotionally regulated.
Basically, your child’s back to school emotions and learning don’t mix.
Yes, this explains why you blanked on the introduction of your History class speech Freshmen year. As it turns out, neurochemicals and stress hormones are powerful enough to outweigh 3 hours of studying and preparation.
They are also strong enough to high-jack your child’s best efforts at school.
If you want your child to start the school year with their best foot forward, you need to look beyond school supply lists and be intentional in helping your child feel emotionally grounded.
The process of helping your child work through their big emotions is not as overwhelming as it may sound. There are a few basic things you can do throughout the back to school transition that will go a long way towards your child showing up to school at their best.
Having a safe landing place (not just physically but emotionally!) is crucial for your child to feel supported and confident in school. While we only hear about attachment in the infant years, nothing changes after infancy. A secure attachment to a caregiver still provides your child with a safe emotional base to explore from!
Finding at least a small amount of time each day to set down your phone to be present with your child will help to meet their need for love and attunement.
Your child will learn much more effectively when their basic needs are accounted for (it’s not a coincidence that safety/security and love/belonging are considered two primary basic needs for a human!)
Creating rituals to help ease separation anxiety is another wonderful way to keep the parent-child bond strong and provide a relational buffer for your child’s back to emotions.
Some ideas for rituals that establish connection and bonding:
- special handshake to use right before and after reconnecting
- your child gets to pick a special meal for the night before school
- giving your child something of yours they can bring to school and use as a physical comfort (ie scarf, bracelet, hair tye etc)
- put a picture of your family in their art box (check out the awesome idea from Coffee and Carpool)
- create a mantra your child can repeat the first day to give them confidence
- go on a back to school shopping date together
- leave lunchbox notes for them to help them feel loved at lunch
Give them a safe place to talk
As parents, we all fall into that the trap of talking way more than we listen when it comes to interacting with our child.
Kids can feel if you’re truly present or just going through the motions when you drop the “how was school today” question.
Ask thoughtful open-ended questions and give them time and space to share their thoughts and feelings. Help them identify the emotions they are feeling (these emotions flashcards and visuals are a fantastic resource for doing this) This is a time to just listen and empathize, not to judge, freak out or teach a life lesson.
Being listened to and feeling understood is deeply therapeutic for your child and plants essential seeds for raising an emotionally intelligent child.
Being intentional with preparation
Kids are concrete thinkers and need a little help when it comes to grasping complex subjects like back to school timelines. There are lots of ways to make preparing for the school year fun and more concrete:
- making a back to school countdown calendar or paper chain
- bring your child to get clothing, lunch groceries, supplies for school etc
- role-playing school scenarios such as lunchtime for younger kiddos
- visiting the classroom and teacher ahead of time
- reading books about school to your child
- making a list of questions your child has about school
- write a story with your child about the school day
Allow your child some control
A very powerful component of managing stress for humans is feeling some degree of agency or control over your life. Allowing your child to help with simple decisions such as first-day outfits, backpack designs or what he wants for lunch will go far to help him feel more secure in an overwhelming situation.
Empowering your child with reasonable opportunities for decision making greatly helps to lower a child’s anxiety
Be an encourager
Listen to your child’s concerns but seize opportunities to breathe confidence and excitement into conversations. Find out what their favorite parts of school are and tell them the strengths you see developing in them each year!
When concerns arise, instead of jumping in with proposed solutions to their concerns take the opportunity to collaborate and problem-solve together.
“Sounds like you’re worried you won’t have anyone to eat lunch with. Why don’t we talk about a plan for how to join in?”
Many times your child will be able to come up with solutions if prompted and given some time to reflect. The act of doing this helps redirect your child’s negative thinking (which sends a direct invitation for anxiety to come to the party!) into positive, rational thinking.
This is the groundwork for what’s known as ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’ and is a powerful way to combat stress and boost confidence.
The secret to an awesome school year starts with you
Feeling confident and emotionally prepared to handle the ups and downs of school is essential in order for your child to perform at their best at school.
Without a doubt, your child’s mental health and emotional well-being deserve a spot up on stage right alongside math and reading.
With a foundation of emotional intelligence and a strong parent-child relationship, you’ll be setting up your child for their best year ever.
What back-to-school traditions do you have that help ease the transition for your child?
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Everyday Ways to Improve your Child’s Mood and Behavior
Inside: Time kids spend outdoors in nature play has been steadily declining for decades and it’s costing them enormously when it comes to their physical and mental health.
I feel my shoulders relax.
My lungs open up and I breathe.
I just feel… lighter.
And all I have done is to simply step out my own front door.
THIS is the power of being in nature. After only a brief few moments in nature, I can literally feel the onslaught of positive changes in my mind and body.
I can understand why nature is one of the best calm down strategies for kids (and adults alike).
There is something incredibly powerful that nature and nature only is capable of doing to our minds and bodies. Since the beginning of time, humans have been closely connected to the natural environment.
We lived off the land and often used natural spaces as a natural extension of our homes. Many cultures remain close to the natural world and as a result, reap profound benefits to both their physical and psychological health.
In our Western modern culture, however, our kids are growing evermore disconnected from their natural environment and researchers have gone far enough to call this phenomenon ‘Nature deficit disorder’.
Studies show that while screentime and indoor time have increased for children, time spent outdoors in nature play has dramatically decreased.
The proof of nature play is in the research
It’s been hard to say exactly what the direct impacts of decreased green time on children were, but we now have the first epidemiological studies that show an association between less contact with the natural world in childhood and worse mental health in adulthood.
“Collecting data from nearly 3,600 individuals in four different European countries, researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health have found that these childhood experiences are associated with feelings of nervousness and depression in adulthood.
“The results show that participants who scored lower on the mental health tests also had less exposure to nature in childhood, and this was true regardless of how much time they spent in nature as adults. What’s more, these participants didn’t seem to place as much significance on natural spaces in general.” (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health)
This is just one of several studies now showing causation between more time spent playing in nature during childhood and mental health in adulthood.
Another recent study found that children who grow up in natural surroundings have up to a 55 percent lower risk of developing a mental disorder as an adult.
The studies author Kristine Engemann reported further that “the protective effect grows stronger with more years spent living near nature. We found that association was stronger when we calculated a cumulative measure of green space from birth to age 10 compared to measuring green space at one single year, this indicates that the positive association builds up over time and that being exposed to green space throughout childhood is important.” (Study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)
The positive effects of nature play for children go far beyond psychological. Nature has been proven important to children’s development in every major way—intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually and physically (Kellert, 2005).
40 amazing benefits of nature play for kids.
Mental and Emotional Health
- Improves cognition and thinking
- Increases focus
- bolsters resilience against stress
- Increases mood
- Decreases anxiety
- Builds confidence
- Provides regulation sensory input for the nervous system
- Builds mindfulness skills
- Improves short term memory
- Decreases anger
- Reduces ADHD symptoms
- Boosts confidence
- Improved self-regulation skills
- Lower blood pressure
- Decreased rates of obesity
- Provides sensory stimuli
- Increases energy levels
- Increases vitamin D levels
- Reduced risk of bone disease
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Improves nutrition
- Improves eyesight
- Improves balance
- Improves range of movement
- Promotes muscle development
- strengthens immune system
- Higher levels of creativity
- Increases appreciation and regard for the environment
- Builds imagination
- Teaches responsibility
- Creates opportunities for awe and wonder
- Encourages healthy risk-taking
- Promotes experimentation
- Develops critical thinking skills
- Improves social skills
- Improves self-discipline
- Develops empathy
- Promotes a deeper understanding of the world
- Increase life satisfaction
- Increases levels of kindness
Every child desperately needs nature play
There’s no denying we have some work to do when it comes to getting our kids outside. For both their mental and physical health and well-being, we now know for a fact that getting back to our nature roots plays a powerful role in combating mental health conditions and serves as an enormous protective factor for our children.
What are you child’s favorite types of nature play?
Grab your free printable list of the Benefits of Outdoor Nature Play!
This post comes with a free printable list of the benefits of outdoor play for kids! (Keeping them close by will remind you to get those kiddos off their screens…and back outside!)
Here’s a peek at it…
- Download the benefits of outdoor play list. You’ll get the printable, plus join 10,000+ parents who receive my weekly insights, tips, and strategies on how to raise emotionally healthy kids who will change the world, every week!
- Place it on your refrigerator or in a centralized area (and start improving your child’s well-being today!)
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Inside: These 8 types of play are essential for the development of every child and contribute to a child’s emotional health in many important ways.
How seriously do you take your child’s playtime?
If we’re being honest, I think for most of us the answer would be not very.
Inside: Learn how to help your child control their anger with the 50 Best Anger Management Tools for Kids from a Child Therapist.
I’m unloading the dishwasher listening to my four and seven-year-olds playing in the next room. I smile as I hear my creative little beings choreographing another dance ‘recital’ in the living room.
I start thinking how much I loathe unloading the dishwasher and ponder what we’ll have for dinner when loud shrieks cut through the air.