Tutor Doctor Blog

De-Stressing a Teen

Growing up has never been easy. Teens have been experiencing stress for generations, but these days, we have data that gives us a clearer picture of what’s going on among today’s teens, in part thanks to a recent study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, Canada.

The study offered some interesting observations. To begin with, despite the apparent “kids today” consensus that being young is worse nowadays than ever, reports of bullying have been in steady decline for some years now, as have reports of teen gambling and opioid use. Social media has not created an apocalypse in the realm of teen psychology.

There is one area, however, in which conditions are very serious: teen stress. According to the CAMH study, 34% of teens report experiencing moderate or severe stress -- an increase of ten percent over 2013.

Put another way, one in three teens experiences enough stress that those around them should feel concerned. The question is what to do about it.

Know thyself

A big part of growing up is learning how to grasp our own feelings. For some of us, knowing what’s going on is second nature, but there are plenty of folks for whom it’s a struggle. This is especially true of teens, whose feelings can seem feel powerful, even overwhelming, and difficult to master. The subtle feelings can be tricky too, sitting in the background and altering perceptions. It’s important, therefore, to learn to recognize the signs of stress when they appear. Look for physical symptoms and behavioral changes. This should not be limited to the parents either -- teens themselves need to understand stress and how it works, and spot the warning signs of stress within themselves in order to respond with the appropriate self-care. Trying to power through it, or maintain a positive facade, does not help anything.

Failure happens in life

A high schooler might feel like a failed exam is traumatic, but in the grand panoply of a life’s experience, it’s barely a pothole on Main Street. That’s not to say it’s nothing -- feelings are feelings and they’re entirely valid -- but honestly, a test is just a test. Grades are important, as are assignments and presentations and all the other steps on the journey to graduation, but students should understand that failure is a part of life, and a crucial life skill is being able to pick oneself up off the floor, brush off the dust and get on with life.

Feelings are responses to reality, they’re not reality itself

Stress is a thing that occurs in our lives from time to time, at all ages. Stress, however, is a response to one’s interactions with the world, it’s not the world itself. In other words being a teenager applying to university, preparing for the SAT or ACT, waiting for responses to applications -- well, it’s perfectly natural to feel stress in response to all these things. But that stress, however justified, is still just a feeling. It shouldn’t be allowed to alter one’s perception of life itself. If it is allowed to do so, then life can seem mighty dark and unhappy indeed. In practical terms, this can have many negative effects on health and happiness, as well as making it harder to succeed in life. Acknowledge feeling as feelings and don’t let them take over.

Do some good, it might help

One of the worst things about stress and anxiety is the feeling of being out of control, of an absence of independence, even of agency. But some studies point to an unusual way to tackle that feeling: helping others. According to Michael Ungar, director of the Resilience Research Centre at Dalhousie University, helping other people can be an empowering experience. “One of the best things you can do with kids if they are anxious,” he says, “is not just ask them to do things for themselves, but ask them to do things for others.” A bit of volunteering, mentoring or coaching might help a stressed teen.

Get some sleep!

Seriously, sleep is a crucial component not only of mental development, but of mental health. Getting a good night’s sleep as often as possible is one of the most important things anyone, of any age, can do for themselves. Sleep. Really!

Get more exercise

No, this isn’t about being thin. It’s about getting the heart pumping and working the old muscles a bit. Playing a sport, going for walks, swim, climb -- it doesn’t matter. Exercise works wonder for stress and always has. It doesn’t need to be intense; even a moderate, gentle workout can really help in relaxation. Be careful, of course -- don’t risk injury. But try moving around, it’s likely to help.

The key to handling stress is to be open about it, acknowledge it, and be methodical about tackling it. No one should feel any shame or embarrassment in being stressed. Indeed if left alone it can be very harmful, both physically and mentally. Learning healthy ways of dealing with it while still young can be a fantastic, empowering skill that will reap great rewards for decades to come.

8 Steps for a Smooth After-school Routine

If getting your kids out the door in the morning is as tricky to coordinate as a rocket launch, it’s no wonder that coming home in the afternoon can feel like a crash landing. With so many distractions and so much to get done, you need to be strategic about your post-school schedule. Happily, your family can handle everything from snacks to chores to homework to playtime with these eight ideas for a smart after-school routine. Bonus: These tips might make for asmoother morning too!

1. Stash the stuff

In the mad dash to the playroom, your pipsqueak has left a wake of school-related flotsam and jetsam: backpack, coat, shoes, and books. Stem the tide by creating a drop-off zone where she can stow stuff as soon as she walks in the door. Set up a hook and a labeled bin, a plastic dish pan, or even a carpet square near the front door that can serve to corral clutter. While you’re at it, teach your little one to off-load her lunchbox near the sink — when she’s old enough she can also refill her water bottle and tuck it in the fridge. The result: a (slightly) tidier house and a less-stressed mom.

2. Serve up snacks

If your cutie’s been cranky since pickup, the situation calls for snacks, stat. Stave off meltdowns and supply a quick energy hit with a fast-but-nutritious after-school nibble that combines protein and carbs. Think cheese and crackers, sliced apples and peanut butter, yogurt and granola. Traditional milk and cookies may sound sweet, but they’ll cause a sugar high that will taper off into a mood swing, so save this treat for special occasions.

3. Tie up loose ends

Nothing upends a once-quiet morning quicker than a forgotten field-trip payment or an unsigned permission slip. Make it a step in your coming-home routine to sort through paperwork in your kid’s backpack while he’s biting into his snack. Fill out forms, slide in necessary money, and ooh and aah over your little one’s latest creations. Integrate some on-top-of-it organization at day’s end, and you’ll not only feel up to speed — you’ll also avoid before-school panic.

4. Move it

For little bodies that have been cooped up for most of the day, making an activity break part of the after-school routine can work out the wiggles and supply some extra energy. Send the kids out to the yard to play, take a quick family bike ride around the block, head to a nearby park, launch a game of backyard soccer or volleyball, or shoot some hoops in the driveway. If the weather is an issue, a fast round of Twister or a two-minute living-room dance party gets little hearts pounding. (It even tires them out for bedtime!)

5. Set up a homework station

For older kids, homework is often the dreaded necessity of the after-school routine. Whether your child needs a break first or does best taking on homework pronto, a spot to work makes it easier to focus. No room for a kid-sized desk? Simply clear the kitchen table and pull out a portable basket of supplies, including pencils, pens, rulers, scissors, and crayons. For homework-phobes, set a timer for 20 minutes, then allow a five-minute play break to keep her motivated.

6. Check off chores

Even toddlers and preschoolers can pitch in with age-appropriate tidying-up tasks. To squelch the endless nagging, create a daily chore chart — using pictures for little ones, words for older kids — with two or three simple tasks for each child, such as putting away shoes, feeding the dog, wiping the kitchen table, or emptying the dishwasher. Award stickers for a job well done. Enforcing an after-school chore routine may feel like its own chore, but it will help you to raise responsible adults — and make your home a bit neater while you’re at it.

7. Set the screen rules

Once homework and chores are out of the way, the decks are clear for downtime — and chances are your little ones are angling for a little one-on-one time with the TV or computer. But remember, when it comes to screen time, less is usually more. Limiting your little one to 30 minutes or an hour of video games or kid-friendly shows lets her wind down, but still allows time for outdoor activities and playing with friends. Even smarter: Have kids earn screen time by reading. Thirty minutes with a book can translate to 30 minutes of video games after dinner.

8. Get them talking

Even among the preschool and daycare set, asking, “How was your day?” is likely to elicit a shrug or an “I don’t know.” To make talking to your kids more productive, ask specific questions that should elicit actual answers, like: “What was the funniest thing that happened today?” “What was your favorite part of the day?” “What did you do today that was kind?” Or, “Teach me something you learned today.” The more interested you are in your kid’s day-to-day, the closer she’ll feel to you.

The following post is originally from Eutopia.org. Article by Angela Hanscom

Longer Recess, Stronger Child Development

With an hour-long recess, elementary schools can help children develop through increased creative play, authentic SEL, and adequate physical regulation.

"Here they come," the teacher tells me with a weary smile. The children are on their way back from recess. Excited voices echo from down the hallway. I've decided to volunteer at my daughter's elementary school for the afternoon. Eager to see her smiling face, I intently watch the door as the children enter. Their energy as they trickle into the classroom is almost palpable. Even though the children are told to quickly take a seat, it takes a solid ten minutes for them to settle in. There are reminders to put away jackets, trips to the bathroom, pencils being sharpened, children talking to other children, brief episodes of giggling, and a few rowdy demonstrations of affection between some boys.

Later, the teacher confides in me, "I don't understand it. I think the children havemore energy after they've had recess! Sometimes I wonder if recess is even worth it."

Shortfalls of a Short Recess

Many teachers report that the period after recess is the absolute hardest transition time of the day. The children are often so wound up that it's hard bring their focus back to their lessons. Some teachers confess to using special techniques to calm and re-focus the children, such as dimming the lights or playing soothing music as they reenter the classroom. While these are great coping strategies to help manage the chaos, preventing episodes of amplified activity from occurring in the first place may prove to be the most beneficial. To do that, we need to allow for alonger recess session. May I boldly suggest at least an hour?

An adequate amount of recess time (or lack thereof) can directly affect children's ability to pay attention, self-regulate, socialize intelligently, and master complex learning skills. We can try to squeeze in short movement breaks here and there, but it won't have the same effects -- or, for that matter, even the same potential. Small movement breaks will always fall short of a good old-fashioned lengthy recess time. Here are three reasons why:

1. Creative Play: Recess sessions that last at least an hour have the potential to foster creative play. Many early childhood centers stress the importance of "large blocks of time (45-60 minutes)" for play throughout the day to help children develop "problem-solving skills that require persistence and engagement." Observations through our summer camp program consistently demonstrate that it takes an average of 45 minutes of free play before children dive deep into more complex and evolved play schemes. It takes time for children to figure out who they're going to play with, what they're going to play, what everyone's role will be, and finally to execute their plan. If recess lasts only 15-20 minutes, the children are just figuring out who they'll play with and what they'll do before the bell rings and recess is over. Many times, this allows for few (if any) imaginative play opportunities.

2. Social-Emotional Development: In recent years, children have exhibited more trouble reading social cues, demonstrating empathy, and effectively socializing with their peers. Schools have created special "social skills groups" to help combat this problem. However, these adult-directed gatherings that emphasize role-playing are limited in their applicability. Children learn social skills best through real-life scenarios and play opportunities with their peers. They quickly learn that whining doesn't work with friends and that they don't always get what they want. To learn effective social skills, children need plenty of opportunities to freely engage with other children. Recess, if long enough, offers an ideal environment to practice these skills.

3. Physical Regulation: Children require longer than 20 minutes of active free play in order to regulate their bodies and prepare for learning (PDF). In fact, when you first let children outdoors, their initial movement experiences will actually increase their activity levels. According to Eric Jensen's book Teaching With the Brain in Mind, "A short recess arouses students and may leave them 'hyper' and less able to concentrate." Children benefit from an extended recess session (approximately an hour in length), because it gives their bodies time to regulate the movement and bring their activity level back down again.

A Call to Active Play

Let's face it: the current 20-minute recess sessions are not long enough. A mere 20 minutes won't allow children to dive deep into their imaginary worlds or create elaborate play schemes. This is not enough time for children to practice effective social skills -- something that's lacking in this age of technology. And a short recess won't let children regulate their bodies to prepare them for higher-level learning experiences.

If we just made our recess sessions a little longer, we would likely see significant changes in child behavior, attention, and even creativity. The Swanson Primary School in Auckland, New Zealand is a perfect example of giving children more time and freedom at recess, and of the many benefits they saw as a result. We can do the same. All we need to do is make recess a priority once again.