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Guest Post by Michelle Croze
Students have many causes of stress in their lives, some that we may not even realize. Aside from the usual homework and standardized tests that they contend with, nowadays many kids and teens are overbooked with extracurricular activities, like sports, work, and clubs at school. When you add that to the social issues they are dealing with, like peer pressure and their not always pleasant interactions with other students and even teachers, in addition to changing bodies and raging hormones, there is a lot of reason for stress to find its way into their lives.
Over time, stress can affect everyone psychologically and physically if we ignore the problem, including kids. Of course, if our children and teens are feeling the stress, they often behave differently, which often increases the stress of parents and other caretakers in their lives, too. Additionally, if your child feels pressure and is “different” from other students, either because he or she is gifted and talented or is dealing with special needs issues, it can also take a toll on the whole family. Our mindset has a lot to do with how much stress we have and how we deal with it. It is the same for kids.
Children, just like adults, can start to feel fried and burned out by the end of a busy day. They may sleep more or alternately become more hyper and nervous than usual. Many, when stress is affecting them, also become more argumentative, oppositional, and cranky, finding reasons to ignore their responsibilities…not because they are lazy, but because they are overwhelmed and in need of a break. The most important action that you as a parent or teacher can take is to handle your own stress in a healthy way. Children and adolescents do what they see their role models doing, not necessarily what they are told to do. So, making sure to set a healthy example and follow your own advice is important for those who are looking to you for guidance. It is always a good idea to check in with your child’s pediatrician, school nurse, and/or guidance counselor for health advice before making any major changes. Here are some basic and practical, but important tips that can help you teach your children or students to arm themselves against stress by being proactive:
- Make sure your child has proper nutrition, including a balanced diet with foods from each of the food groups, preferably eating at regular intervals and including healthy snacks when possible to keep insulin levels stable and to help them have the energy to think clearly and to maintain daily activity. Making sure that they drink plenty of water, not soda or other sugary drinks, is also very important. Avoid anything that has corn syrup, high levels of sugar or other sweeteners, caffeine, hydrogenated fats, additives/man-made preservatives, and food coloring. These can all mimic, cause or worsen symptoms of many disorders, such as ADHD/ADD, oppositional defiance disorder, certain learning disabilities, migraines, etc. These ingredients can also actually cause more stress to your children, as their bodies attempt to process these substances.
- Make sure your child is getting regular, moderate exercise every day or at least three times per week. Kids typically require a bit more exercise than adults, as they generally have much more energy than we do. This can even be gentler forms of exercise for those who have asthma or are just starting out with getting more movement worked into their day, like walking or yoga. You can even sometimes be “sneaky” about fitting this into your day, by taking the stairs with the kids, instead of an elevator, for example. Or, why not sign up for a family volunteering activity, like a walk-a-thon for a good cause or a clean-up day at the local park? Then, your children will be doing two great things, taking care of their own health and also doing a good deed that benefits others. Both will make your kids feel better about themselves. The bonus is, you probably will, too!
- Make sure your kids get enough rest each night! They grow while they are sleeping and require much more sleep than adults do! So, make sure that they have quiet activities planned for the last hour before bedtime…and set bedtime early if possible, so children and teens can get between 8-10 hours, depending on their age, each night. Making sure to have a regular bedtime every night also helps, along with a regular wake up time and routine. It is often the case for older teens to not be able to fall asleep until later in the evening and to be “hard wired” to want to sleep in. This is normal. But, if you have a night owl in the family, you may want to encourage him or her to use “power naps” or to avoid exercise and homework in the later evening (do these after school instead) and stick with relaxing activities and routines after dinner time. Morning, afterschool, and evening routines can be extremely beneficial and comforting for children and teens as well. Consistency is so important for a sense of well-being and healthy emotional development in kids of all ages.
- Encourage your child to have some “free time” where nothing is prescheduled each day or at least several times a week. Model this important stress relieving behavior by MAKING TIME FOR YOURSELF EVERY, SINGLE DAY! It doesn’t matter if you are a single parent or student or work overtime. This is the most important thing you can do to deal with stress and prevent it for yourself. Make “YOU TIME” every day, even if it is only for five or ten minutes. It doesn’t matter if you read, have a bubble bath, meditate, or just go for a walk outside. Anything you enjoy doing will help! As your children see you taking important time out for your own needs, they will be more likely to grow up with the same healthy habit.
- Teach your child to remember to breathe…and make sure you do, too! Frequently, when we are feeling stress or anxiety of any kind, we unconsciously hold our breath or begin to breathe in a more shallow way. This actually causes the body more stress, as we are supplying it with less oxygen when we hold our breath or breathe in a shallow way. If you start to feel stressed out or overwhelmed, pause for a moment, close your eyes, take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds before exhaling. Getting outside for a breath of fresh air can also help. Teaching your child to do deep breathing techniques like this and pausing for a moment to breathe as they think things through before speaking during conflict can make a huge difference!
- Again, making sure that you encourage your child to drink plenty of water and other healthy drinks for them, like milk/soy milk, fruit juice with no added sweeteners, etc. is so important! Keeping their bodies hydrated can help to prevent headaches and many illnesses that their immune systems have to fight off. Drinking enough water (6-8 glasses per day, depending upon age, activity level, and the temperatures they are exposed to) can help to filter out and flush the system of toxins. Do they get bored with plain water? If so, try mixing it up with a caffeine-free herbal iced tea or other clear fluids that don’t contain sugar or caffeine, like apple juice or coconut water.
- Find reasons to smile and laugh with your kids as often as possible. It has been scientifically proven that when we smile, it elevates our mood and the level of endorphins (feel good chemicals) in the brain…even if it is a “fake” smile! Laughter, especially the deep, belly kind of laugh, is also endorphin raising and very cleansing for our internal organs. You may even find that by smiling and laughing more, you find it harder to take things as seriously and have more fun together as a family…which will consequently reduce everyone’s stress level as an added bonus!
- Teach your children to meditate or pray (which counts as a form of meditation) with you in whatever way you feel comfortable. There are so many types of meditation to choose from. I recommend sticking to the simpler forms of guided meditation to start with, or trying things like progressive relaxation and even just having soft classical music or nature sounds playing later in the day when they get home from school or before bedtime. It can really help. Also, music, the arts in general, and time in nature can be incredibly relaxing for children and grown-ups alike.
- Keep kids and teens talking! Make sure to keep an open dialogue with your kids or students. Ask questions…and then really listen to their answers without interrupting. They will learn to do the same when listening to you. Being available to kids starting when they are very young, teaching them to be communicative, non-judgmental, and approachable are all great ways to set up a life-long healthy relationship that helps kids grow into adults that can resolve a lot of their stress by talking it out.
If you would like to try out different types of free guided meditations with your children or students to see what you like and what works, we actually have several posted on our main website: www.harmonywayhealing.com. You can also find out a lot more information about other issues related to education and parenting issues, health and psychology topics, alternative/holistic healing modalities, and stress relief and relaxation techniques and tips on our blog website: www.harmonyway.weebly.com. There are many terrific links for parents and teachers to check out on both websites. You are also welcome to contact us at any time through either website or via email: email@example.com.
Owner/Practitioner & Teacher at Harmony Way