Spoiler Alert: In America, our young people are under an immense amount of pressure – whether we know it or not – and so many of them are stressed from school. This is resulting in diagnoses of anxiety and depression among other conditions in younger and younger kids. We will look at one of the most common signs of stress – irritability. And we’ll talk about one of the most common times that we see irritability in our elementary, middle school, and high school students. You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? Yep – after school is one of the most common times that our children feel stressed.
The statistics for increasing mental health conditions for the children in our country are grim. And here’s the kicker – there is a big gap between the actual number of kids suffering from a mental health condition and the number of parents who think their kids are suffering from a mental health condition.
Let me say that another way – we don’t know when our kids are experiencing significant stress!
So I wanted to provide a series of posts about the stress that our tweens are under. In this series, I want to show you some of the most common sources of stress; how to identify it; different ways that we can help our children cope with stress; and what to do if your child still needs more support.
Tween Stress Series
I told you this was a series that I’m working on, so you can always check back here to see posts as I add them!
My Boys Were Stressed From School
When I pick the boys up from school, they are happy, sweaty, and red-faced from running all over the playground. And they’re old enough now that sometimes, I even catch a whiff of “eau de boy” and declare it a definite bath night. They flop into the car and beg me to turn on the air conditioning as soon as possible.
At home my oldest rushes into the house, throws his backpack onto the floor, and drops his shoes and socks one by one in a line up the stairs on his way to his room. Then I don’t see him again for a while.
The youngest springs in the door and almost always runs straight for the bathroom, flinging his backpack down somewhere along the way. Then he wanders out of the bathroom and drops his shoes and socks, one by one in a line on his way to wherever he decides to go.
And you know what? HOLY MOLY – this sudden mess makes me so mad!! Backpacks thrown everywhere; shoes in four different rooms; socks strewn here, there, and everywhere – all in 60 short seconds! It’s enough to drive a mom over the edge.
The Part Where The Director Gives You A Flashback for Context
Before my mommy gig, I practiced law and most days were long, hard, and intense. I remember the mind-numbing exhaustion. It was a mentally difficult job – meeting and assessing new clients, attorneys, or witnesses. I had to be able to quickly find and learn new caselaw and apply it to the case at hand (or provide it to the demanding attorney on the other end of the phone). It meant new situations, tight deadlines, and being able to pivot as needed to create the best outcome for my clients.
So when I got home on those days, the sense that my brain just wanted to turn off was overwhelming.
On humid summer days, I came home from work, the smell of steam from a sudden afternoon thundershower rising off the asphalt. I would open the front door and as the rush of air-conditioning blasted me in the face, my briefcase and whatever else I was carrying clunked to the ground. Next, I hurled my heels across the living room because, well, heels. Finally, I would wander straight to my bedroom to change clothes.
Are Expectations for Tweens & Teens Always Realistic?
Did you see what happened there?
It took me a minute, but now I recognize that when my boys come home from school they do almost exactly what I did when I came home from a hard day at work. So why was I angry at them for doing precisely what I did when I got home from a tough day?
As an attorney, there were a lot of situations where I had to think on my feet. I had to learn new things, interact with new people, or adjust to new situations. All of those things can be exhausting day after day.
Fred Rogers said it best:
Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood. – Fred Rogers
And so if play and later, academic learning are “the work of childhood,” then how does that differ from my day at the office? At school, children are doing all of the same things that I did. They are learning new things, interacting with new people, and constantly adjusting to new situations. Tough stuff. And this is why so many of them are stressed at school.
Why is it that adults expect so much more from children than we expect from ourselves?
They’re younger; their brains aren’t fully developed; and they don’t have the collection of life experiences that we do. Yet, too often, we try to hold them to higher standards than we hold ourselves – which sets them up for failure.
…Wait a Minute…
If you’ve been on my site very often – you might be saying, “wait a minute…..Don’t you homeschool????? What are you trying to pull here, Karen.”
And the answer is yes, we do homeschool. So what gives?
Well, confession time: I wrote most of this post several years ago before we were actually homeschooling. And I spent so much time wondering what is wrong with our school system that we send these amazing joyful kids to school and get back a hot mess heap of a kid who’s grumpy, rage-y, and sullen. (Spoiler alert: in some school systems, a lot…)
Anywho. If you want to know more about my homeschool choices, check out my reasons for homeschooling my boys – I wanted them to be seen holistically and valued for all they have to offer, not evaluated based upon the narrow focus that is measured in most schools. Read more here: Why Homeschool? I Finally Decided To Pull My Son From School
But I also did want to mention that even after homeschool, my boys will want some “alone time” to be quiet and relax and just give their brains a rest.
Set Kids Up For Success When They Come Home Stressed From School
I’ve realized that I needed to encourage my sons to relax when they come home because their needs are the same as mine.
Here is the thing that will be helpful to remember before you start making too many demands of your child when he comes home from school:
It’s likely that your kids need the same opportunities to calm down after a tough day that you do.
Remembering that what each of us needs to decompress may be a little different and that you know your child best, here are some of my favorite activities to help smooth the transition:
- Understand the activities that bring your child joy instead of just happiness and focus on those;
- Allow some quiet time;
- Allow time for a connection with you;
- Recognize your child’s love language or your teen’s love language in order to be able to truly connect with them in a way that they will best absorb;
- Offer a snack (this is a necessity at my house…boys get HANGRY!);
- Allow them to do something relatively mindless – television or an electronic game – and take the opportunity to snuggle on the couch with them;
- Provide them something that requires single-minded focus – building a LEGO set, drawing, or crafting;
- Provide instructions slowly and in a tone that lets them know you aren’t issuing any demands just yet;
- Empathize with their need to calm down or relax;
- Use a terrific communication tool that helps keep the lines of communication open;
- Wait before asking questions about their day. I like to share my day with them first;
- Allow time for physical activity to reduce stress – to play outside or roughhouse inside; and always
- Realize that she’ll perk back up. She just needs exactly what we do – a little transition time to escape all the intensity of her day.
And I’ve decided that I really don’t care whether he puts his shoes away as soon as we hit the door or two hours later. If he needs to unwind, we will all be happier once he has done that. I will allow him the space to take care of his needs.
And you know what? There won’t be any fights, arguments, hurt feelings or struggles.
I’ll ask him to put his things away and he will – thankful that he had some downtime before being asked. Or, more often these days, he does it on his own before I even ask.
It All Comes Down To This
Before you send me a bunch of emails saying that I have no boundries and my kids get to do whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want…hold up!
Of course, I want my kids to pick up their things, help around the house and do their homework. That is expected in our home.
But it comes down to this.
Do these things have to be done right now?
Or can they wait just a bit?
Depending on the day – the answer might be, “Yes, they have to be done immediately when the kids get home because…[insert your thing here].
But much more often, the answer is, “No. It has to be done, but not right this second when the kids are stressed from school.”
It’s hard for kids to engage in their day to day activities of learning and forging their way through new situations and new environments, just like it is for those of us who work(ed) outside of the home. I try to offer the same grace that I allowed myself.
I’d love to hear from you about any particular ideas that work well to help your kids decompress when they come home from school!
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