This year has been especially stressful and chaotic for kids. Whether they have been schooling online, in person, or a hybrid of both, it is certain that the routines they had come to depend on have been upended. Even before pandemic life, after school stress was real. It can show up differently for different kids and can vary depending on the day. Maybe they had a tough day at school involving other students, teachers, or staff, or maybe they have a lot of homework to do. Sometimes, just the transition to home life from school life can be stressful for children. There’s a distinct shift in energy and expectations as kids move from the world of school to after school, even if that schooling has been at home. Read on for some ideas to try out and see which ones help your children with this transition.
Breathing: It’s no secret that breathing practices are my passion. Breathwork is so powerful in its ability to quickly help us feel better mentally and physically, and it’s no different for kids. Stress can lead us into a protective mode with our posture. We round the shoulders and draw the chest inward. This makes it more difficult for the lungs and diaphragm to get the movement needed for full breaths and exchange of air. This, in turn, leads us to feeling even more stressed and makes it difficult to think clearly. Teaching kids to breathe deep into the belly to efficiently move the diaphragm can activate their vagus nerve. This switches the brain from that stressed fight or flight mode into restful mode. Have your kids lay down. They can put their hands or a stuffed animal on their belly. Have them inhale and breathe into their hands or to make their stuffed animal lift up. Tell them to breathe in and out slowly so their stuffed animal can stay on their belly.
Movement: Shake it out and shake it off. There’s a good reason we use the phrase “shake it off” (even before Taylor Swift made it famous). Shaking can be a great way to transition from the school day into the post-school world. Shaking gets the body’s energy flowing and wakes up the body and mind. My dog always shakes her fur when she’s waking up, excited, overstimulated, (or just because she’s wet). Dogs shake as a way to reset their mental and physical state. It works for people, too! Shaking helps increase circulation, reconnect your mind body and emotions, and very quickly helps you feel more centered and calmer. Shaking, like breathing, activates the parasympathetic nervous system and signals the brain to calm, relax and let go. It can also increase oxytocin in your system. Oxytocin is a hormone that has been found to help lower stress levels, and can even promote positive social behavior . Have your kids take a 5 minute shaking break. You can put on some music and get grooving with it and shake it up!
Meditate: I have found that children really enjoy meditation. They often feel cool, or very grown up when they first learn to meditate. There are lots of very kid-friendly ways to introduce meditation for kids. I like to explain meditation to kids with a snow globe or something similar like a glitter bottle. Shake it up and the glitter goes everywhere and clouds up the water. You can’t see much of the inside at all. This is like our minds when we have tons of thoughts spinning around like the glitter. Meditation helps calm the mind and settle our glitter. My favorite meditation with children is to have a 4-word mantra to repeat a few times. I like to use “Peace begins with me” which I learned from my Kidding Around Yoga training. You can also use other positive affirmations like “I can learn this”, “I can be calm”, or “I can be brave”. They can do this seated in a chair or on the floor with their eyes closed or looking down. It helps children feel grounded, relaxed, and releases negativity and stress.
Routine: Having an after-school routine can help reduce the anxiety that can arise from transitioning from school. This can include a snack, any transitional tasks like putting away coats and shoes, or playing with a pet. You can incorporate the practices mentioned above into this routine also. A yoga or other movement break, along with a short meditation and breathing practice can be a great addition to a daily transition routine. Having a routine gives children of all ages a sense of security and stability. They gain an understanding of everyday events and learn what’s expected of them. Making their environment more predictable significantly reduces stress. Having a routine can even bond the family together and give your child confidence and independence as they know what to do and how to contribute as a family member. It also helps establish healthy, positive habits.
What things help your family with after school stress?