I had a great morning yesterday at my MOPS meeting. (MOPS stands for Moms of Preschoolers, and they have chapters all over the country.) The meetings are a wonderful time in my otherwise busy week to pause, reflect on my parenting, gab with other moms, and hear some interesting speakers.
Yesterday was a “lovefest” in honor of Valentine’s Day. The speaker, Dr. Steve Stephens http://www.drstevestephens.com/ , spoke on marriage and relationships. What stuck in my mind was his comment that the stress and anxiety in a home is often heightened or determined by the parents, and kids pick up on their parent’s anxiety. It makes sense, when my life is busy and chaotic, taking the time to keep home calm and reassuring for my daughter is an uphill battle. Most moms I know are busy doing millions of things ~ working, raising a child or children, volunteering, organizing events and activities (those MOPS meetings are organized by wonderful volunteers!), and keeping the household running. For our generation, Dads are there, too ~ helping with the kids, keeping their own business going, cleaning toilets (thanks, honey!)
It is during these busy times, however, that we have to try to remember to slow down and keep our children apprised of what’s going on. I work with many older children who have anxiety disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Over time, their uncertainty of the world has led them to hold on to whatever they can control. The uncertainty of the day or the challenges they may face create a significant level of stress inside their little bodies, and they often show “fight or flight” behaviors as a result (hitting others, running out of the room, etc.)
Some recommendations I make for families are geared toward helping their child understand the flow of the day or week. With calendars or pictures we can help them anticipate the unknown ~ what’s coming next, what that day or the next holds ~ and hopefully help alleviate some of the stress or worry that comes from mom and dad rushing around. Keeping their environment and their routine structured, predictable, and safe (think calm bathtime/bedtime routine!) allows children to have some control over this big world they are a part of. For children who have difficulty with transitions, some prep time can be helpful (e.g. “Honey, in five minutes we are going to pick up our toys and get ready for bathtime.) Reviewing the day’s events, besides helping with retell skills, allows children to decompress from their day.
Keeping ourselves as parents in check is also important. Finding healthy ways to decompress and keep stress out of our home will keep our child’s environment a safe and nurturing place. A good friend once told me that on the way home from work she will drive around the block until she is ready to enter the house. She will let the day go while circling her neighborhood, so that when she opens that front door, she is centered and ready to be present for her children and her husband. Just a few deep breaths as she gets out of her car and she let’s it all go. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?