How to let go of stress and chill — as a parent

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Life is less stressful at the beach.

We’re only a few days into 2019 and it’s a perfect time to take a look at how our family lives are going. We can decide to make changes if needed, right? Here are a few questions to ask: Is life too hectic? Are you and your kids too exhausted at the end of the week? Do our kids have any downtime? Are we rushing our kids from activity to activity and then facing homework late at night?

I found this helpful article in the HeraldNet (which was one of the two daily papers we subscribed to when I was a kid — back then it was called The Everett Herald). In “Parenting is stressful; here’s how to be a more relaxed parent,” Paul Schoenfeld explains “Two full-time working parents have become the norm in America — mostly out of financial necessity.”

Here’s an excerpt:

No doubt, one of the hardest jobs I ever had was parenting. Of course, once you have kids, you are always a mom or a dad.

But during the first 18 years of life (at a minimum) parents have a huge responsibility — not just to provide for their children, but to help them become independent, decent adults.

When children do become independent, we can sit back and relax a little. But it takes a long time to reach that moment.

As both a grandparent and a child psychologist, I can see how today’s parents feel particularly stressed. Two full-time working parents have become the norm, mostly out of financial necessity.

Upward mobility was always a fact of 20th-century life — children were likely to do better than their parents. But in the 21st century, that is not a given. Indeed, most kids won’t be better off than their parents. There is even the possibility that they will do worse.

This new economic reality pushes parents to enrich their children’s lives with all kinds of extra activities — music lessons, dance, art, sports and tutoring. Parents are spending more time helping their children with their homework, too. This new reality has been called “intensive parenting.”

For many working parents, it’s plain exhausting.

Schoenfeld says there is no evidence that all this extra time we’re spending on activities result in our kids becoming successful adults. In fact, with anxiety rates rising in our youth, it may be one of the underlying causes. We do have more kids with anxiety and depression than ever before. That’s a fact. What can we do as parents to help our kids become independent and happy adults — and alleviate stress in their lives? We can try to be less stressed ourselves.

Here are some tips from Schoenfeld:

Here’s how to be a more relaxed parent in 2019:

At the end of the day, trust yourself. Sure, there is a lot of useful information out there. But you know your kids better than anyone else. Trust your own intuition, knowledge of your child and your own common sense.

Be realistic. Too much is too much. If you see that both you and your kids are exhausted at the end of the week, take a step back. You can’t be everything to everybody.

Take care of yourself, too. Try to get enough sleep. So what if your house and your yard won’t be perfect. If you don’t take care of yourself, you are going to be a grumpy, irritable parent. You won’t like yourself and neither will your kids.

Limit screen time. I know, I sound like a broken record. But too much time on email, computer screens, television, smartphones and video games sucks your time up like a vacuum cleaner. It doesn’t really add quality to children’s lives. I don’t think it makes parents’ lives better either.

Savor your child’s childhood. Turn off your cellphone, step back from your “have to’s” and “shoulds” and simply enjoy your children! These are precious, fleeting moments. Savor them, drink them in. Engrave them in your memory. Be 100 percent present and in the moment. You won’t regret it.

Paul Schoenfeld is director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. His Family Talk Blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.

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Angus and the kids during one of our relaxed summers. No wonder we treasured our summers!

Looking back, I sure could have used this advice back in the day. I’ll never forget when my son was in middle school and he was super busy (which means I was tearing my hair out). It was his choice to audition for the school play, try out for basketball, continue with piano lessons, enter a piano competition, have his science fair project make it through the local and county levels and then prepare for state. Plus, continue with the Piranha Swim Team. It was great he wanted to do all these things. But, as a parent, I was the one who should have said, “No. Let’s pick a few things and try the others at another time.”

I let him do it all and tried to support him. It meant I was dropping my son off at his piano teacher’s in Cathedral City, running my daughter to the pool (that was the one activity besides school she was passionate about) in Palm Springs. Then I drove back to piano to take my son to basketball practice at St. Theresa’s in Palm Springs — driving back and forth on the Cross Valley Parkway like a maniac trying to get to the activities on time. One night, I missed a turn, tried to do a U-ey — and smashed into the curb. Flat tire, bent rim. I realized it was time to stop and slow down.

Today, my son says he has recurrent stress nightmares from that time in his life. Mainly that I signed him for a swim meet, and he’d been too busy to go to practice. Talk about a nightmare!

robertkatbangsWhat gives you a clue that you’re trying to do much in your life? What do you do to slow down?

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Get out of Your Comfort Zone and off the Blocks

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Do you ever look back at what you were doing a year ago? Or a few years ago? This blog allows me to review a snapshot of what I was feeling and doing during any month since 2015. Two years ago this week, I made a huge commitment that was totally out of my comfort zone. If I wasn’t injured today, I’d be swimming in my third meet next weekend. Here’s what I wrote in late January 2016:

I started swimming in April last year with US Masters, with my kids’ team Piranhas. It was my New Year’s Resolution to take the big plunge in 2015. I am embarrassed to admit that it took me until April to start on my New Year’s Resolution.

Eventually, I jumped in and I think it’s one of the best things I did for myself in 2015. You can read about my first days of Masters, here.

I equate joining US Masters to how I believe swimming was one of the single best things my kids did growing up. To a non-swimming family, this may sound crazy. But, there are so many benefits to swimming that changed my kids’ lives. Read more, here.

Biggest example—swimming changed my son’s health. He was, as his favorite coach termed, “A Secret Garden Child.” He suffered from asthma and chronic illness and swimming doubled his lung capacity. His asthma doctor became a big advocate for him to swim.

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My daughter diving in her senior year of high school at Super JOs, East LA.

I can go on and on about what a great thing swimming has been for my kids. I write about it regularly on SwimSwam and my blog. Here are links to a few of my stories.

So, what am I doing this year to push myself and what’s my New Year Resolution? One thing I’d like to do and I’m not 100 percent successful with is to get up an hour earlier each morning. I’m getting better, but it sure didn’t start off well. I have noticed, though, that I’m more productive with an hour earlier start.

The other big thing I’m doing to push myself out of my comfort zone is I signed up for my first swim meet. YIKES! I said it. I signed up for a Masters meet hosted by Piranhas. I’m scared to death. But, actually not as frightened as I was my first day in the pool last April.

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Piranhas on the blocks.

I practiced going off the blocks twice and it wasn’t pretty. When I was a kid, I learned to dive with a flat, almost belly flop “racing dive.” Old habits are hard to change. I’ve decided it might be best if I push off from the wall at the meet. But then my 83-year-old dad said, “I’m not going to come and watch you race if you push off the wall!” I’m not sure if he’s kidding or not!

In any case, I’ll let you know how it goes. If I show up or chicken out. If I dive off the blocks.

 

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My daughter with her first swim instructor.

 

What have you done to get yourself out of your comfort zone and get off the blocks?

 

5 Things That Affect Academics

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My daughter swimming with club teammates during break at the home pool.

I received a letter from my daughter’s University — The Center for Student Wellness — with interesting information for parents of children of all ages.

They said in the letter that they’ve found on their campus five main issues that affect academics:

  1. Stress
  2. Anxiety
  3. Work
  4. Sleep
  5. Cold/flu/sore throat

imgresThe letter went on to explain that while sleep is fourth on the list, sleep affects everything else on the list. I’m not quite sure how they distinguish “stress” from “anxiety”  because they seem to go hand in hand. However, they state that lack of sleep can be mistaken for stress–which in turn can lead to anxiety. That can make your student more susceptible to getting sick–which also will affect academics. They suggest seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Then your child will be in a better mood. Plus, they will score higher on tests and keep a higher GPA!

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As the parent of swimmers, my kids were good sleepers. My daughter still swims and she has no problem falling asleep. Ever. 

My tip for getting enough sleep is simple: Swim! It even works for me. I feel so much better after a good night’s sleep and I’m likely to get more work done and have a positive attitude.

Here are the tips from the University of Utah on getting a good night’s sleep:

  1. Go to bed around the same time every night, and wake up around the same time each morning.
  2. Have a quiet, dark space to sleep in that is not too hot or cold.
  3. Be sure to remove distractions like televisions, iPods, computers, and tablets from bedrooms. Beds shouldn’t be used for activities like reading, watching movies, or listening to music.
  4. Begin powering down lights and electronics about an hour before bed.
  5. Avoid large meals, nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol right before bed.
  6. Limit naps to 20-30 minutes a day.
  7. Engage in regular physical activity.

BINGO! There is it. Number seven. If you have a child in athletics — particularly swimming — your child will sleep. Maybe that’s why they say that swimmers have the highest GPAs of all sports? Even though they get up at the crack of dawn for practice–they’ve had a full night’s sleep.

My kids during break.

My kids during break.

 

How does sleep or lack of sleep affect your day?

The Travails of Travel

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Visiting Salt Lake City means I get to see Waffles, my daughter’s pug.

This past weekend, it dawned on me why I hate to travel. It all began with a too early flight from Palm Springs to Salt Lake City. When I have to get up earlier than normal, I tend to wake up every hour to check the clock. So, by the time I got to the airport, I was already tired and wondered how I’d make it through the day.

Online when I checked in 24 hours before our flight, Delta told us we’d get our seat assignments at the gate. Well, my husband got a seat, but they wouldn’t give me one. I’d been “bumped.” They said I could “volunteer” to give my seat up but I refused. My only hope was that someone wouldn’t show up or would volunteer to give up their seat on the overbooked fight. I was asked to sign a waiver that said I had refused to volunteer and I was giving up any compensation if I didn’t get on the flight.

At the last minute, someone took a $600 voucher to travel to Ontario and take a later flight, so I did get on the plane. It was a stressful way to start a long day, however! Since I had purchased our tickets more than seven weeks earlier, I wondered why I was the one to get bumped? A woman working at the gate said I must be “non-rev.” I found out non-rev is someone who didn’t pay for their ticket and they’re flying on a friends or family free ticket. That was NOT me. I paid full price.

The weekend was so much fun and I wrote all the wonderful details about it here.

 

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Utah with my girl.

But then the problems began on the trip home when we returned the car to an offsite car rental place, Fox, which we have raved about for the past three years. We’ve never experienced anything but the best service from them. But, on Sunday night they had one employee to check in returns and check out cars to lines of waiting people. We all seemed to pull into the Fox lot at once and we all needed to get to the airport, pronto!

We had to wait and were about 10th in line returning our car and missed a shuttle driving back and forth to the airport. They had two shuttles parked in the lot, but apparently only one driver on duty. So, I was stressed again and anxious if we’d make our flight while waiting for the shuttle to return from the airport.

 

At the airport, finally, I was pleased that we were pre-check. I sailed through the short line and noticed Bill wasn’t behind me. They wouldn’t let him through, and unbeknownst to him, his driver’s license had expired. After a full body search—and I mean FULL—the TSA agents went through his suitcase and laptop. Then they ran strip tests to determine that there weren’t any bomb-making ingredients on him or his stuff.

Bill kept telling me to get to the plane and that he’d be fine. I refused to leave him in Salt Lake City without knowing what was going to happen to him.

Together, we made it to our gate where our flight’s boarding thankfully was delayed by 30 minutes. We made it on the plane and the plane pulled away from the gate. Then we sat and sat and sat. The pilot made an announcement that an outside sensor wasn’t working and we’d be waiting until a further decision was made. Bill and I burst out laughing. What else could we do? The plane made it’s way back to the gate and we sat some more.

Thirty minutes later we were escorted off the plane to another gate. This time the plane was working and we made it home.

I love visiting family and friends, but I do not like to travel. What experiences have you had with travel that you’d like to share?

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I love these two. It was worth the headache of travel.

 

 

5 Tips for Parents to Reign In Smartphone Use

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Life before smartphones.

With all the evidence that more and more kids are suffering from anxiety and depression and with suicide rates skyrocketing, there is research that says smartphones may be making these trends worse. In a Time article by Markam Heid, “We Need to Talk About Kids and Smartphones” he shares these horrifying figures:

“Between 2010 and 2016, the number of adolescents who experienced at least one major depressive episode leapt by 60%, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 2016 survey of 17,000 kids found that about 13% of them had a major depressive episode, compared to 8% of the kids surveyed in 2010. Suicide deaths among people age 10 to 19 have also risen sharply, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Young women are suffering most; a CDC report released earlier this year showed suicide among teen girls has reached 40-year highs. All this followed a period during the late-1990s and early 2000s when rates of adolescent depression and suicide mostly held steady or declined.”

In another article, “Is Your Kid Hooked on Smartphones? 5 Tips for Parents” Heid gives some great advice for parents who are concerned with their kids’ smartphone use. Here’s the abbreviated version. You can read his article in its entirety here.

ONE
Keep devices out of kids’ bedrooms. There is already strong data linking bedroom screen time with a variety of risks—particularly sleep loss, says David Hill, director of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Communication and Media.

TWO
Set up online firewalls and data cutoffs.
Most devices and Internet providers offer parenting tools that restrict access to illicit content and curb data use, and there are apps that do so as well.

THREE
Create a device contract. “This is something you create with your child that details rules around their device use,” says Yalda Uhls, an assistant adjunct professor at UCLA and author of Media Moms and Digital Dads. These rules could include no smartphones at the dinner table, or no more than an hour of social media use after school.

FOUR
Model healthy device behaviors. Just as kids struggle to stay off their phones, so do parents. “We’re all, even adults, drawn to devices,” says UPenn’s Jensen. And if you’re a phone junkie yourself, you can’t expect your kids to be any different, she says.

FIVE
Consider old-school flip phones for your kids, or a smartphone without a data plan (and therefore no Internet access). This may seem like overkill for some parents—especially those of older teens. But unconnected phones still allow teens to call or text with parents and friends, says Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of iGen.

I think the best thing to do is put down firm guidelines and don’t give in. I was strict with my kids about when they got their first cell phones and I bought them at Target as pay-as you-go phones. It wasn’t until my son’s high school graduation that he got an iPhone. My daughter got one a little sooner because they were much more common, but not until age 16.

Today, I’m the one addicted to my phone. I’m always reading stories, looking at Twitter, checking out FB, etc. My daughter gets so mad at me when we’re together and asks me to put the phone down. “I”m here with you now!” she’ll remind me. I worry a lot about the kids who are in the iGen with peer pressure following them wherever they are. Getting the smartphones and computers out of their bedrooms at night is a smart idea. Making a weekend or week to unplug as a family is a plan, too. It’s such a different world, isn’t it, from when we grew up?

What rules do you have for your kid’s smartphone use?

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Me not on my iPhone–being in the moment with my daughter.

 

The Roller Coaster Ride of Parenting

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My son and swim team friends years ago.

We were leaving tomorrow for my son’s college graduation. I’m packed and I was on my way to swim practice when he texted me. He said he has a bunch of papers that are due on Monday and he doesn’t have time for graduation activities.

It’s been a tough quarter for him with prolonged illness—weeks and weeks of getting sick and staying sick.

The announcements are out. The celebratory dinner was set, grandpa’s hotel room booked. We have friends and family coming in for the graduation ceremony. But, one thing will be missing. My son.

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The day we moved my son into his dorm room at UCSB.

He’s planning on graduating, mind you. But, he doesn’t have time to celebrate and attend the activities. Seriously, why did his college schedule the ceremony the weekend before finals and when papers are due? I don’t know the answer to this. 

On my daughter’s side, we spent the weekend at her target meet to qualify for Olympic Trials. She swam well, made it to finals, but didn’t achieve the cuts she was looking for. She’s been so close, but in all honesty, it’s too bad she tripped and sprained her ankle last summer, chasing a bus. My point is that it’s hard to make a cut at a last ditch meet. There’s too much pressure and it might have been easier to make it during last year’s long course season.

Do I love my children any less? No, I do not. In fact, I’d say they are truly growing up and experiencing the difficulties of adulthood. Disappointments do occur. Things do not always go as planned. It’s how we react and handle ourselves that will determine success or failure. I don’t want them to give up on their dreams.

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Open Water Nats at Lake Castaic, July 2014. Photo by Anne Lepesant.

Three Tips for Studying for Finals

images-1My daughter, who is a freshman in college, is facing a lot of stress. It’s finals week coming up, plus she’s getting ready to move out of her dorm into a house with new roommates. Add to these stressors the fact that she’s gotten sick with a sinus infection and is struggling physically. That’s a lot to handle in one short week.

I offered to visit and be there for her. I don’t know what I would do for her, but somehow my presence might make some of this go away? She said she can handle it on her own.

imgresMy advice to her was to focus on her school work. Get lots of rest. Don’t get caught up in anxiety and drama.

Part of her stress is facing four finals to study for at once. It seems overwhelming. I gave her the following three tips to break it down and make it easier—after all, “how do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time.images

1. Block out time. Make a calendar, mark off the time for classes, meals, and swimming. Then you’ll get a clear picture of your available study time.

2. Take frequent breaks. Schedule your study time in half-hour to hour blocks. Drink plenty of water during your breaks.imgres-1

3. Write by hand. Don’t type up notes. I found through my years of studying there is a direct connection between handwriting to the brain. This is anecdotal, but I could always remember things better when I wrote notes as opposed to staring at and reading, or typing them. I would take out a notebook, or note cards, and hand write everything I needed to know. It sticks in your brain.images-2

I hope my tips help her, and that she makes it through the finals week in one piece. 

What tips do you have for finals week?