I Found the Most Effective Way to Help My Kids Manage Stress
“Too bad that you’re retired,” the nurse told my psychiatrist mom as he gave her the Pfizer booster shot. “Students here are really struggling with their mental health. We could use more help.”
Conversations like this one, which my mom shared with me after driving home from the vaccination center on Princeton University’s campus, feel ubiquitous right now. Just that day, I read about the advice Venus Williams got from her mother on caring for her “whole self,” and attended a Zoom with the dean of my son’s new high school, who told parents that back-to-school orientation would include a session on “self care.”
Everyone is either talking about how they’re trying not to lose it or to help young people keep it together. And with good reason. A recent global study of how the pandemic has affected more than 134,000 college students around the world found that some common struggles include “fear of themselves or others in their social network contracting the virus, apprehension about the changes in coursework delivery and unclear instructional parameters, overall loneliness, compromised motivation, and sleep disturbances, as well as anxious and depressive symptoms.”
It’s a lot, as we say.
As a parent whose two kids still have a few years to go at home, I often ask myself if I’m doing enough to keep them calm and (mostly) positive about life. On the worst days, I listen to the news too loudly, vocalize my Covid fears over the dinner table, and probably freak them out. On the least-worst days, they’re embarrassed by the made-up show tunes about the virus that I sing as we walk our pandemic puppy around the neighborhood. Sure, I also try to feed them healthy food, institute an early-ish bedtime, and keep down screen time. But recently, as I was cleaning my desk, I found evidence of something I did to proactively help them monitor their own health.
Last spring, at the height of the pandemic, when we were all pallid from weeks spent indoors, suffering from mystery ailments, and sleeping poorly, I decided to take action beyond doling out Rocky Road, Tums, and melatonin. I wanted to help them learn to read the messages their bodies were sending them…