Sometimes it seems too simple to think that helping our kids get more sleep, eat better, exercise, and be in nature can reduce concerning behaviors. Things like tantrums, unrealistic anxiety, anger and irritability to name a few.
The truth is, behavior that seems abnormal, could actually be a normal response to being out of sync.
In my practice, I am frequently helping caregivers of children explore “symptoms” to see where they lie on the spectrum of normal to “clinical.” We look at how these symptoms are affecting their child’s life, where they may be coming from, and what can be done to alleviate them so their child can begin to better relate to themselves and those around them.
Sometimes, these “symptoms” can be relieved when the adults change the way they are relating to the child. Sometimes, a change in the family life style can help. And sometimes, it takes more focused attention and work with healing professionals to help this child and family reach their true potential.
In this article, I write about changes in lifestyle as a means to start helping to alleviate concerning behavior. However, when symptoms persist, it may be a sign there could be something else occurring that needs a deeper look.
Establishing a bed time and bed time routines are important to the well-being of your child. Aiming to have a general bedtime allows your child to get the necessary amount of sleep for their age. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following:
Newborn (1-3 mths): 14 – 17 hours
Infant (4-11 mths): 12 – 15 hours
Toddler (1-2 yrs): 11 – 14 hours
Preschool (3 – 5 yrs): 10 – 13 hours
School age (6 – 13 yrs): 9 – 11 hours
Teenager (14 – 17 yrs): 8 – 10 hours
Research shows that adequate sleep is necessary for healthy growth and development. Lack of sleep contributes to a poorly functioning immune system and an increase in health problems. It also effects a person’s concentration, learning ability, reasoning, and problem solving.
Begin to establish a bed time routine by starting with the basics: pj’s on, teeth brushed etc. Let your child decide if they want to read a book with you, listen to a meditation, or have you tell them a story. Your child may even use this time to talk with you about their day. Bed time is notorious for being a time when children tell their caregivers big worries they have been holding on to. Something about feeling safe and connected, in a predictable routine, with a loving person can have that effect. A bedtime also routine helps children begin to learn to settle themselves, to relax after a long day. This is a valuable tool they will carry with them for a life time. If you struggle with this yourself, exploring different relaxation techniques with your child can be a great way to build your relationship while also learning something valuable together.
Exercise: This is a more obvious one. Most of us already know the benefits of exercise on the health of our bodies. Exercise is also proven to have an equally beneficial effect on our minds by reducing stress and anxiety, increasing energy and concentration, and combating symptoms of depression.
Research is showing that kids who get 60 or more minutes of physical exercise a day display increased attention and memory, greater self-discipline, and improved academic performance and cognitive ability. The benefits in this research are not just associated with physical exercise or structured sport activities. The act of unstructured free play cultivates creative problem solving, increased language skills, brain growth and self-regulation.
A balanced diet: “An apple a day”….no, but seriously. Americans are consuming sugar and processed foods at an alarming rate. I am not a nutrition expert, but it’s no secret that a healthy and balanced diet, rich in fruits and veggies, and other nutrient dense foods, contributes to our bodies ability to combat disease. Healthy diets also improve mood, concentration, cognitive functioning, and increase energy and physical ability.
Time in nature: Technology has greatly improved the lives of humans. However, it has also created an environment where many are spending hours a day in front of screens. In turn, reducing their level of physical activity, interactions with others, and time spent being outside. Being in Nature allows children to get physical exercise and release energy which reduces stress and fatigue. When in nature, kids also get to use all 5 of their senses, and build their imagination and confidence as they explore new ways of doing things. I challenge you to use this summer as an excuse to get out in nature more often. Plant a garden, go on a nature walk, swim, pick strawberries, build a fort. If you don’t readily have access to these things, try something simple, like laying a blanket out on the side walk with your child, closing your eyes and challenging her to name as many “nature” sounds as she can. Breathe the air in deeply. Relax.
Don’t strive for perfection. Simply begin to take small steps in each of these areas. Too much at once can be overwhelming and set everyone up for failure.
If taking these steps is not enough to help alleviate concerning behaviors, consider speaking with your child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional to further explore these issues.
Was this helpful? Email me your thoughts and experiences trying this technique at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you feeling like the daily struggle is just too much? Are you worried your child may have needs that extended beyond what you are currently able to offer them? Do you live in Central New York? If you are interested in learning more about psychotherapy and play therapy for your child I can be reached at 315-737-3094 or email@example.com
Jennie Mazza Jones, LCSW, CCPT has a private practice located in Clinton NY, where she specializes in providing psychotherapy to children and their caregivers utilizing Play Therapy. Jennie helps kids who long to feel accepted, want to do well, and wish they could control their worries, anger, and behaviors, but struggle because they communicate in a way that many adults don’t understand. She also helps parents/caregivers who want to help the important children in their lives reach their truest potential, but are afraid to make the wrong move, fear the worst, or are just unsure of what to do next. Jennie can be reached 315-737-3094, firstname.lastname@example.org and www.jenniemazzajones.com