Let Kids Be Bored

Today’s parents often feel the need to plan out, have activities, and make sure that their children are entertained all the time. This puts a lot of pressure on the parents to make sure that kids are never bored. Boredom has become synonymous with bad parenting, but in reality, children need the time and space to be bored. And you are not a bad parent if sometimes your child is bored.

A recent study found that boredom can spark individual productivity and creativity. When a person is bored, they allow their minds to wander and daydream. This enhances creative thinking and problem solving. 

Boredom also allows children to be self reliant. When left up to their own devices they have to decide what they want to do. According to Lyn Fry, a child psychologist told  Quartz, “Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy. If parents spend all their time filling up their child’s spare time, then the child’s never going to learn to do this for themselves.”

Having to discover what you like to do when you are bored will also allow children to find what they’re really interested in. These interests could lead to passions or hobbies in their lives. However, if they are constantly going from one activity to another, they will never have the down time to figure out where their interests lie. Finding out what makes you happy is important for everyone, especially as children grow up. 

Let your child be bored and they might gruffle and groan for a bit. Stay the course, and  eventually they figure out how to entertain themselves. Whether it is playing with toys they forgot about, building forts out of pillows, writing stories, designing a board game, coloring and painting, or playing imaginative games, children will find ways to entertain themselves. Disconnect your child from all forms of technology, leave them alone, and you would be surprised at the creativity they can unleash.

We often model for children the need to multitask. We overschedule ourselves and our children. We constantly check our phones, email, social media, watching TV and are constantly staying connected. Start by modeling for your children an afternoon of zero technology and just sitting, reading a book, having a conversation with a partner,  or coloring. Show them that it is ok to not do anything sometimes. 

Do not feel bad for having a weekend where nothing is planned. Sometimes social media makes parents feel bad when they are not out at an immersive educational adventurous location. That is not real life, and no one will judge you if every once in a while you and your child do nothing. 

Boredom is good for a child’s development and for parents too. We all need down time. Finding the balance between our go-go-go lives and just being is absolutely necessary for all of us. 

We are here to say, “Let kids be bored!”

Stress and Brain Development

As adults, stress causes havoc on the body and the brain. So, it is unsurprising that when children undergo stress in their lives, it affects their brain development. The brain is the central organ of stress and we need to ensure our children are being taken care of. 

High levels of stress in early childhood can influence brain development and have short and long term influences, especially when it comes to emotions and learning. When young children are faced with overwhelming amounts of stress, without supportive adult relationships to help them cope, the results can be extremely damaging. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, there are three types of stress: positive, tolerable, and toxic. 

Positive stress response is a normal and healthy part of development, this might be starting a new school, or trying something new. This type of stress is essential and children will be able to navigate this type of stress with positive outcomes. 

Tolerable stress response is more severe, this might be the loss of a loved one or a traumatic injury. This type of stress can cause damage to development, but the brain and other organs can recover when supportive adults are there to help them navigate and find healthy coping mechanisms. 

Toxic stress response is when a child experiences prolonged adversity without any adult support. This could relate to abuse, a caregiver with substance abuse or mental health issues, or burdens of economic hardship. This can disrupt the development of the brain and other organs and increase the risk of developing stress related diseases. 

Toxic stress during early childhood can affect the developing brain circuits and hormonal system, which can lead to poor control over a child’s stress response system. As a result, children can become angry or threatened even when there is no cause to feel that way, or they can experience excessive anxiety long after a threat has passed. 

Knowing this, our message of balance is extremely important. It is not just our opinion. Research shows that children need balance in their lives, even more than adults do, because developing brains are not equipped to deal with high levels of stress. 

Here are some tips to help your child cope with stress. Many of these techniques can grow with children, so as they develop they can have the mechanisms to cope with stress. These strategies can also be adapted to help support students in your classroom!

1. Exercise: Exercise is one of the best stress relievers there is. Exercising can ease your mind from the things that are causing stress. It also releases endorphins into our bodies, which makes us feel good. Make time to exercise as a family. Take a walk, run, hike, ride bikes, or play sports.

2. Unplug from technology: Technology is a wonderful tool, however research has shown that too much technology use can have a detrimental effect on children. Restricting or taking away technology can be stressful too, so we suggest coming up with a plan with your family. Sit and have a conversation with your children, make rules together, and have technology free zones and times in the house. Most importantly, model model model for your child. 

3. Spend time with family: Children LOVE spending time with their family. We hear how happy they are when they tell us all about “Family Night” at school. Play board games with them, color, paint, or make art with them, practice throwing the ball, read books, or just sit and listen to them. Spending quality time with you, will reduce their stress and you will make memories they will remember for a lifetime.

4. Spend time in nature: There is something about being in nature that brings (even the most city lover like Jen) peace. Finding a park, trail, mountain, or body of water, and spending time in the sun is so relaxing and peaceful. Going into nature with your children is a wonderful way to spend quality time with them, unplug, and destress. 

5. Let them play: Today’s Children often have a lot to do after after a long school day. After 8 hours of school, many children have after-school activities, plus reading, and homework, they are often on the go for many hours a day. Giving them time to play and relax in an unscheduled or unplanned way will let them just be kids and relax. 

6. Mindfulness: Teaching children to practice mindfulness will give them skills to develop awareness of inner and outer experiences that can help them better understand their emotions. Start off simple and focus on what is happening “right now.” Be grateful and recognize positive things in the moment. Teach children breathing exercises or meditation

7. Model Stress Management: Children learn the most from the adults in their lives. If you model stress management techniques, they will learn from you. Bring balance into your life, and your child will follow.

Teacher Appreciation Week

This week is Teacher Appreciation week! Appreciation of the hard work that teachers do every day is near and dear to our hearts. Teachers are doing very important work in society, and often can feel undervalued and overwhelmed. While it would be ideal to appreciate teachers all year long, it is nice to have a reminder and an entire week dedicated to appreciating teachers.

Ultimately the best way that society can appreciate teachers is with:

1) Support for students

2) Respectable compensation

2) Smaller class sizes

3) Resources and supplies for classes

4) Societal respect

These are our hopes and dreams for the teaching profession! We understand that these might be a bit difficult to accomplish this week, but a teacher can dream! We hope that one day teachers all over the country have these things.

But seriously, we thought we would offer some realistic ways to appreciate the teacher in your life this week.

1) A handwritten card from students

2) Small treats to keep in the desk

3) Coffee or tea

4) Flowers for their desks

5) Verbal affirmation or a positive email

6) A positive email to their supervisor

7) A bottle of wine

These are all little things that go a long way in making a teacher feel appreciated and supported. While we keep fighting for the top four, it is good to feel like we have people supporting and appreciating the work we do!
We also found this great resource with everything you need to appreciate your teachers or even plan events to appreciate teachers at your school!

Teaching Children Self Care

A few weeks ago, we posted a blog on Balanced Children. We want to revisit this idea with a specific focus on how to teach self care to children. Just as parents and teachers need to practice self care for their own benefit, we also need to teach kids how to CONSISTENTLY and INTENTIONALLY engage in self care activities. Teaching kids how to take care of themselves now, will equip them with the tools they need later. Kids need to learn how to manage stress in healthy ways.

Exercising

Encourage movement any chance you get! You don’t need to put your child in every after school sport for them to get exercise. You can encourage and model exercise in ways that don’t cost anything. Take walks, ride bikes, go on a hike. Encourage kids to dance, jump rope, roller skate, and hula-hoop. They also have free websites that encourage movement like GoNoodle and plenty of free kids movement videos on YouTube. Modeling the fun in exercise and movement for children will set them up to continue the practice as they grow up.

Laughter

Find every opportunity to laugh with your children. Laugh when things are great, but also try to find laughter when things go wrong. Children are going to make mistakes and if you laugh with them when they make simple mistakes like accidently spilling their milk, they will be less stressed about always having to get everything right and will be more open to taking different risks.

Encourage them to play fun games that make them laugh. Here is a great list of games that encourage laughter from Deep Fun. We also found a great list of board game that the entire family can enjoy from Toy Notes.

Reading

Help your children find books that they enjoy. Of course we want our kids to read “educational” books too. However, finding a book, an author, or series that your child enjoys to read for pleasure is wonderful for children.  If your child is reading something that they are interested in, then it is making them feel good. Reading for fun is a great way to help kids manage stress. It is pretty easy to setup a little cozy reading space with pillows, blankets and some of their favorite stuffed animals. There is nothing like forgetting the stressors of the day by getting lost in a good book.

Teach Mindfulness

There has been a big buzz around this word “mindfulness” in education and business recently. Mindfulness helps teach kids how to regulate their emotions. It can improve their ability to pay attention, can help them calm down when they are upset, and can help them make better choices. There are apps and websites that lead you through short mindful moments. Head Space is one of those options. They even have a series for kids. We have used these in the classroom, and students and teachers alike enjoy the mindful moments.

Mindfulness isn’t something you should force and definitely shouldn’t be used to punish kids when they have done something negative. Our advice is to keep it simple and help your children develop an awareness of thoughts, how their body is feeling, and what is happening around them at different moments. Often times, it seems like we (not just kids) are always wanting to focus on what is coming next. It is important to teach kids an awareness of what is happening right now.

Another component of mindfulness that is really wonderful in teaching self care to kids, is to focus on gratitude. This is really easy because you can do this anytime. It could be part of your bedtime ritual, dinner time talk, or you can encourage a gratitude journal. They have some excellent gratitude journals for kids on Amazon!

Outdoor Time

Get your kids outdoors! Spending time outdoors helps with the obvious, like getting sun exposure which gives us essential vitamins, and it encourages exercise, which we discussed earlier. But these aren’t the only benefits. According to the Harvard Health Blog, spending time outdoors also helps kids develop executive functioning skills, encourages risk taking, promotes socialization, and gives children an appreciation for nature. There is space for kids in nature to get in touch with their creativity. They build forts with sticks, play hide and seek, climb trees and rocks, or if the weather allows it, have snowball fights. This generation of children are over scheduled and plugged in since infancy. Spending free time outdoors is essential for development and will fuel adventure and creativity in kids.

Foster Friendships

Last week we wrote about our Teacher Tribe, and how cultivating a group of people who understand and support you can enhance your life. Friendships are important for children too, feeling a part of a community or group gives children self esteem and people to talk about their feelings to, other than their parents and teachers. This is especially important as they reach the upper elementary grades, where adolescence is on the precipes. You can ask your child’s teacher about who your child is playing with, or any recommendations about children with whom they might have a connection with. Setting up play dates and times outside of school where your child can make connections with other children is important to foster these friendships.

Manage Screen Time

This is probably one of the most difficult self care tools for parents to manage and model. We live in a world, where devices are in our hands and surrounding us all day. Everywhere your child goes, they see people staring into their devices, and this has been their world since birth.  By around 1 year old a baby knows to slide to unlock a phone, by 2 or 3 they know apps and can get onto Youtube to find the videos they like. Devices are fun, they are a distraction from the real world, however, as teachers, we cannot stress enough, how important it is to manage screen time for your child.

“Kids and teens age 8 to 18 spend an average of more than seven hours a day looking at screens. The new warning from the AHA recommends parents limit screen time for kids to a maximum of just two hours per day. For younger children, age 2 to 5, the recommended limit is one hour per day.” (CBC News) The best way you can do this is by modeling for your child. Put your own devices down and talk, read, play, or exercise together. Engage them in other activities that do not involve devices.

Sleep

Sleep and mental health have a close connection. We are all guilty of scrolling instagram at bedtime, but more and more studies are showing that to improve sleep you should stop using a device up to two hours before bed. If you can’t swing that, even 30 minutes to 1 hour will help improve sleep. Having a device box or a location where kids put their devices at a certain time, will help set an expectation for the family that can help improve sleep for everyone.

For more information visit The National Sleep Foundation website

All of these things that we are talking about seem very basic and obvious. And most of these things naturally took place when we were kids. We didn’t have devices and we were always outside playing. We didn’t call it self care for kids, we just called it being kids. As our world continues to evolve and advance, we need to take steps to ensure that we are aware of the effects that these changes have on our kids. Many studies are showing kids and teens are depressed and stressed and unable to handle normal things that life throws at them. We need to take a step back and make sure we are giving our 21st century kids the basic skills they need to manage stress and practice self care in this ever changing world.

Self Care for Parents & Teachers

Many times when you are taking care of children, your own needs might get pushed aside. Whether you are a parent and have kids of your own, or you are a teacher and spend your days taking care of other people’s children, it is essential to carve out time for yourself. If you are both a TEACHER and a PARENT it is even more important to prioritize some time for self care. Sometimes it may feel impossible, so we wanted to share some helpful tips when creating space to take care of you!

Spending Time Away From the Kids

If you are a teacher and don’t have kids, your time out of the classroom is your time to take care of you. Don’t feel bad taking those personal days, or calling in sick once in a while. Your class will be okay. As we mentioned in our post about balance, you will always have work to do, so try to limit your school work at home. A teacher’s to do list is never ending, you don’t have to work every single weekend and evening. Take your home time to rejuvenate. Your students will benefit from you taking care of yourself.

If you are a parent of school age children, your time is when your kids are at school. It is really important that you know that it is okay to plan adult only activities on nights and weekends sometimes too. You might miss your children, but they will be okay without you for a weekend or evening.

If you are both a teacher and a parent, you need to get really creative to find some time for yourself. Guilt can be a persistent unwanted visitor. Unfortunately in this case, it surfaces in both arenas: at home and in school. There could be guilt for leaving your sick child with a caretaker while you are at work, or guilt for leaving your students with a sub. Think of it this way: you’re watching the Superbowl. You need to use the restroom. Should you miss the game play or the commercials? IT DOESN’T MATTER, BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO GO! You need to be confident that whatever decision you choose to make is the best decision FOR ALL. Teaching and parenting both call for selfless thinking, but you have to remember that making yourself feel rested, relaxed and rejuvenated is a necessity. If that means finally using that floating holiday while your child is in daycare to walk the tempting aisles of Target for hours on end, do it.

Asking for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your family and friends. Many parents feel guilty about asking or taking help from family and friends. They feel that they must do it all and do it alone. Until very recently child rearing was a communal affair. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other extended family members helped parents raise their children. The next time a friend, grandparent, or uncle asks you if you need help or if they could babysit, say yes! Take the time to do something for yourself. We promise they are not judging you, they just genuinely want to spend time with your children and help you in anyway that they can.

Much like parents, teachers should also not feel guilty about asking or accepting help from others. As veteran teachers we love helping newer teachers. Not in a condescending “I know better than you,” sort of way, but rather in a “What can I do to help you?” way. However, all teachers should ask for help. Teaching is an all encompassing and overwhelming profession, if you do not advocate for yourself and your needs in the classroom, then no one else will. It is important to remember that your needs are your students’ needs.

Saying No

Part of self care is maintaining balance as we wrote about in our previous posts. Taking care of you might mean saying no to the endless events that come up on the weekends. People might get offended, feelings might get hurt, but it is okay to say no. You don’t need to have plans to say no to something. And you shouldn’t feel the need to come up with an excuse. People who know and love you won’t make you feel guilty about not attending every little thing.

For teachers this includes school functions. Teachers often feel the pressure to attend all the plays, festivals, dinners, picnics, and fundraisers for their schools. However, after a long day of teaching, sometimes a teacher just needs to go home and rest. There are a plethora of ways teachers are able to show their support for the school. The number one support we give as educators is the amount of time and energy we spend to make sure each student’s academic and social needs are addressed under our care. Your administrators, coworkers, students, and parents will understand.

Exercising

Exercising is a great form of self care. It helps improve physical and mental health. When you choose to exercise all the stressors of the day go away, and afterward they do not seem to be as bad as they were. “Exercise may actually help ward off depression and anxiety by enhancing the body’s ability to respond to stressors.” [Why Endorphins (and Exercise) Make You Happy, by Kristen Domonell.] If you can’t get away to do it on your own, it can be done as a family. Take a hike, a walk, or put on a fun exercise video. The kids can be included and then you are modeling self care and healthy habits.  

Time with Friends

Whether you are a teacher, parent, or both, it is extremely important to connect to other adults. It is a great way to model friendship to your children and students in your class. You can spend time with other adults with or without your children. If your friends have kids, great! Make it a party. If they don’t that’s okay too. These friends are happy to take you away from your responsibilities and give you a break. MANY people without kids WANT to spend time with their friends kids, mini versions of the people they love!

Connecting with a Partner

If you have a partner, self care could be done together with a night out, spa day, or a weekend away. Even if you plan a night to stay in and cook together without the kids, it is important to connect and check in with each other. Especially if you are parents, it is important that you take the time to figure out how you can support each other in self care. Allowing each other time away and sharing in the responsibilities will help maintain a balance.

It is so important to not lose ourselves in the busyness of caring for others. When you take the time for yourself you will be able to better show up and be present for others. When you regularly practice self care, you will be less stressed, happier, and won’t be harboring feelings of resentment.


Balanced Children Have Balanced Parents

Bringing balance to our lives and to our children isn’t always easy. We have to be mindful, make choices to let go of certain expectations, possibly change routines, and most importantly be aware that we can’t and shouldn’t do it all.

Children Mimic Us
As educators, we spend most of our days getting to know our students at school. We become familiar with their personalities. By the end of September each year, we can confidently identify if a child is going to have a fantastic day, or if one might need extra high fives and check-ins. As educators and curious observers of the world around us, it has always been so interesting to meet parents after becoming so familiar with our students. We recognize where a student might get their long eyelashes from, their cleft chin, or that one curl that has a mind of its own. We hear familiar giggles, expressions and sense of humor. It is so exciting to recognize ourselves in our children. What an astounding feat it is, to leave an imprint of ourselves for generations to come!

Apart from the genetic and biological aspect of human development, children learn by observing their parents. Parents are their first exposure to human behavior, relationships and language. There is no one so perfect and so right in our children’s eyes than their caretakers. Think of the times when children are learning to speak or walk. Before they even begin the actual act of making sounds, they hear it; before they try to figure out how to use their legs, they have been observing their parents amble around all day. This observe and do pattern does not stop! It continues long after they have moved out of the nest.

Now, you may not want to, but imagine one of those extra busy mornings. One where you feel rushed and anxious. You have to get yourself ready for work, get the children ready for school or daycare. Not to mention make and eat breakfast, make sure that everyone has a lunch, and make it to school on time for drop off. If you have ever experienced this stress and anxiety, then there is a possibility that your child was experiencing this with you. Children are very good at identifying and taking in the energy of grownups. When you are unbalanced, anxious, stressed, overworked, and have nothing left to give, they feel and exhibit that too.

When life is catching up with you and you are starting to feel this way, it is time to slow down. If there is too much on your plate, you need to prioritize the most important things and let go of other things. On those mornings, hours, or days when you are feeling overly stressed and frustrated, stop, take a breath and know that everything and everyone will be fine. If you have a partner, it will help to share your stressors with them and come up with a game plan together. It also helps to talk to other parents that are also feeling these same stressors. Find your community of like minded parents and don’t let go.  Remember raising kids is a series of stages, however overwhelmed you are feeling at that moment, know that it will pass.

Focusing on Flexibility
The most important life lesson that should be visited and revisited in the classroom and at home is flexibility. Assemblies do not always follow the schedule. Dad can’t always do preschool drop off. Things do not go the way they are planned. This is an illusion that we tell ourselves when things are going well. In fact, plans work because of the wiggle room that accompanied it. In the classroom when the technology does not work, we copied the wrong papers, or the glue bottles dried up, we often say “C’est la vie.” Such is life. There are things that are out of our control in our classrooms and in our homes. Feeling frustration and anger is normal, but understanding that that frustration and anger will not fix the problem is incredibly important for our children to learn. Being flexible, regrouping, and figuring out how to move on is a skill that parents and teachers need to model for children.

Benefits of Balance
Parents that are balanced have balanced children. If you and your household are unbalanced, then your child will be too. We have had students that continuously forget their homework, misplace their workbooks or folders, have 7 water bottles in their cubbies, come to school without any of their supplies, or have big emotional reactions when things do not go the way they wanted or thought they would go. There are times when learning differences and special needs are the reason for such emotions. However, being around parents that are over worked, spread out too thin, and stressed out plays a big factor into any child’s daily performance. These emotions and behaviors manifest themselves in children too.

On the other hand, students who have parents that have a work-life balance, take on challenges with a positive attitude, and are present in the moment, often thrive in our classrooms. They tackle challenges calmly and cooly, they have better resilience, and a stronger sense of self. These students do well in our classrooms, the school yard, and with friends.

There is no way that stresses can be eliminated in our lives. We deal with different kinds of stressors all day long. However you deal with these pressures in your life, always take the time to talk to your children about it.  This, after all, is talking about balance. It is OK for your child to see you frustrated or irritated. These are all very real emotions that they will encounter and feel in their lifetime. What is important is that you address it with them before they take these observations elsewhere. Just as you would walk through each step of what your doing with an infant to expose them to language, walk your child through your thought process when you reacted so emotionally to an unsavory event. Get them involved by asking them how they thought the reaction helped or hurt the situation. It shows them that it is OK to react to frustrations and reflect on better ways to deal with these unexpected situations.

Being a parent is an all day every day job without any sick or vacation days. Everyone is doing the best they can. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and unbalanced, sometimes it’s nice to have a reminder that it is okay to slow down, cancel plans, and just take some time to get things back in order. It will make a more balanced life for you and for your children. The key is to not be perfect all the time, but to have an awareness when you need to create more balance.