By Jim Fannin

With everchanging C O V I D – 1 9 protocol, hectic schedules, loss of jobs, reduced income (for most), information overload, remote working, social uncertainty, financial uncertainty, and peer pressure, negative stress is at an all-time high. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “74% of Americans are experiencing symptoms of chronic depression.” ZoneCoach Analytics, a division of ZoneCoach, LLC, has been surveying major companies for high and low levels of Self-discipline, Concentration, Optimism, Relaxation, and Enjoyment. Each participant survey-taker has complete anonymity as they record their answers to our five minute survey. With overwhelming results, low relaxation leads as being the biggest issue for the companies surveyed. Negative stress is rampant, and it is wreaking havoc on corporate America. Of course, stress runs downhill. We are taking it home and it’s reaching our children in alarming ways. Our children’s ability to cope is underdeveloped and the after-effects of negative stress are obesity, poor grades, bullying, delinquency, insomnia, wild mood swings, apathy, opioid and or alcohol addiction, and even chronic depression. Yikes! An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure. Here are 12 tips to help keep stress from your kids:

1. KEEP IT PRIVATE: Avoid adult arguments, disagreements, and especially loud confrontations in front of your children. Create a key phrase with your significant other that signals to take the conversation to a private place.

2. BE THE PALM TREE: Just like a palm tree in a hurricane, absorb the negative words, dirty looks, eye rolls from your children for 90-seconds. By staying calm, lowering your voice and then dealing with the situation calmly but firmly, you will show how to handle stress situations and how NOT to fly off the handle.

3. THE 90-SECOND RULE™: If you’ve been away from your children for at least two hours, the first 90-Seconds you see them has more influence and impact on them than spending hours with them later. Make your last phone call in the driveway, put down your cell phone, mentally close the door on work and give your kids 100% of your attention. Be ready to be positive! Now, look each child in the eye long enough to discern eye color. In this first 90-Seconds, mirror their verbal and non-verbal communication. If they are sad, then act sad. Now you can bond with them and help positively raise their mood more easily. If they are happy, then be happy. And remember…if you have a teenager, you may only get a focused 90 seconds…so make it count!

4. I BELIEVE IN YOU! What is heard, thought or felt in the last 30 minutes before deep sleep will be replayed 15-20 times during the night. Obviously, you want your children to think positive thoughts. Walk into your child’s bedroom just before they fall asleep. Lower your voice to a whisper. Touch or rub the skin or hair while you say, “ I believe in you.” That’s it. No more. Use this judiciously (2-3 times) during the week. By focusing on your child’s beliefs, it takes their thoughts and feelings away from negative stress and will help them handle it when and if it arrives.

5. BE COOL AT MEALS: Preparing a meal for a family and eating a meal all together (especially when busy schedules interfere) can be extremely stressful. This is the time to be cool. Slow down as much as possible. Keep your voice low. Ban negative discussion. Ban discussing adult subjects such as work or finances. Allowing stress to enter the dinner table will wreak havoc on a family. Everyone will eat faster, chew their food less and consequently digest their food poorly. Be cool at all meals!

“When we’re stressed one of the first things to go is our willingness to listen and observe. Listen and look for signals of stress in our children.”

6. MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL: When we’re stressed one of the first things to go is our willingness to listen and observe. Listen and look for signals of stress in our children. They could very well be mirroring your own stress. “I hate this.” “I’m sick of that.” If your children are putting themselves down or they are being a victim or judge, they are exhibiting stress. Where did it come from? Probably your home environment is the answer. Look in the mirror. You may need to change your own behavior before the behavior of your kids can be changed.

7. BACK TO SCHOOL: With a new school year come the stresses of a new schedule, being with other stressed classmates, in-person social interactions, new morning routines, and the normal pressure of tests, homework and grades. These stressful times, although designed to be educational and fun, can easily spill into the minds of our children. Be cool! Slow down. Take things in stride. Everything does NOT have to be perfect. And lastly…plan ahead. No undue, added stress.

8. PERFECTION: When planning anything, most of us visualize what we want. We see it, as it will be. With repetition this vision becomes indelibly etched in our minds. And if we see that reality does not match our imaginative vision, we can become irritable, impatient, anxious, and outwardly upset. The internal conflict of one’s expectations not meeting reality has a profound impact on our children. Learning to adapt and adjust to the everchanging conditions, circumstances and situations are the keys. Look for these internal conflicts and help your child cope by adapting and adjusting.

9. ROAD TRIP: “Honey, pack the car. Let’s head to grandma’s house.” Right! What is more stressful than a carload of kids with a long destination and a timeline to be met? You know the answer. Not much! Make your family trip just that…a trip planned by the family and organized by the family. Allow for imperfection. Make the trip less rigid in terms of timeline. Give plenty of time to free-lance the agenda. Make sure you and your spouse are fully engaged in the trip. No email or cell phone business every five minutes. No bickering over minute details. Go with the flow. Experience this family experience in the present tense. This also includes a family trip to the mall, movies or other short destination. Enjoy your children while you can.

10. GOODNIGHT SWEETHEART: Go to bed happy! That’s right. During the last 30 minutes before deep sleep, spend time with the person you love…. your significant other. Avoid talking about finances, the kids, your job or anything negative about the past or future. Wow! Doesn’t leave much…you might think. Be peaceful during this time. Be loving. Be kind. Be gentle. Be happy that you are together. This positive nightly experience will be replayed 15-17 times while both of you are asleep. This will help you wake up refreshed, positive and ready to have an awesome tomorrow. This nightly ritual will have a dramatic impact on your children. Trust me on this one.

11. TENSION RELEASE: If you feel stress ravaging your body, try this 90-second tool. Tense the muscles in your feet while holding your breath then release the muscles with a long exhale. This takes only five seconds. Next tense both calves of your legs and repeat the tension-release. Five more seconds. Repeat for your thighs, buttocks, lower abs, upper abs, chest, biceps and fists. 35 seconds. Then shrug your shoulders toward your neck, squeeze and then release. Five more seconds. Next, scrunch all the muscles in your face and then release. Five seconds. Finally, tense every muscle simultaneously and then release. Do this for five seconds twice. The technique of tension-release works before bed for a better night’s sleep and anytime you feel stress overtaking your body. Take care of your stress before it hits your family.

12. BE ALONE: Sometimes you just need to be alone. Go for a walk. Take a long, hot bath (bubbles/wine optional). Get a massage. Work in your garden. Physically workout. Being alone can relieve stress that won’t find its way to your children. If you sense the need for you or your children, don’t hesitate to contact a professional mental health expert.

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