We all know that we need to take time to relax, but how often does that drop to the bottom (or right off) of the day’s ‘to do’ list? Sadly many of the kids I work with have a lot of trouble taking time for themselves.
With any strategy, it is important to have an honest conversation about barriers; what does/will/might prevent you from doing what you intellectually know will be good for you? Some of the most common barriers brought up by my students are:
- No time; lots of school work, home responsibilities/extracurricular. These things, in my kids, take priority over all else.
- Relaxing is stressful; minds that are whirling quickly, running over what they have done and still need to do don’t always submit to downtime.
- Guilt; Doing something that does not produce a clear and tangible end product feels like a ‘cheat’
- ‘I don’t need it’; They like to be busy and assume that this will always be the case and because something is pleasurable, it does not require them to slow down and recharge.
There is a lot of pressure in our society to be productive. I think sometimes we think to be productive means that we need to be working. If we shift the lens a bit to look at what really makes us productive, healthy, functioning people, it is a lot easier to see the importance of taking time to relax and recharge our batteries. Dead batteries aren’t good for much.
So, the next step is to look at ways to minimize these barriers:
- It may involve scheduling downtime and treating it the way any other home or school responsibility is treated.
- It may involve looking at what can be dropped off the to-do list in order to make room.
- It may involve repeatedly saying out loud “I need and deserve regular time to myself”.
- It will involve practice
OK so I’m willing to try this; how do I do it?
I honestly believe it is different for everyone. Some believe that to truly relax, you need to clear your head and meditate. Telling someone who is feeling anxious to meditate (if they haven’t practiced) is similar to telling someone who is very unhappy to cheer up. It will not likely garner the desired results.
That said, with practice (and it does take practice) meditation can be incredibly effective. There are a number of phone apps and websites designed to lead users through a guided meditation. Simply googling ‘guided meditation’ will turn up a plethora of options. Choosing a designated time and space for practice is important, particularly if your child is just starting out.
Some find that even a guided meditation is not their thing. A good alternative is to do a simple, non-intellectually taxing activity like doodling or mild physical exercise, even working a fidget toy. This channels focus to something comparatively mindless, which helps to block distracting racing thoughts. Working on a mandala or zen tangle can help some decompress and regulate their breathing. I have a number of kids who need to read to calm down and recharge. Consider also the value of petting a dog or cat, or spending time outside, especially in nature.
The most important thing is that whatever they choose to do, it is calming and they feel more refreshed afterwards.
What Can You Do?
- Encourage kids to book a time and space and support them in valuing and maintaining the routine
- Check out some guided meditations online like calm.com
- For a quick ‘check-in and decompress’ there are a lot of phone apps like ‘breathe and think’, or ‘be game ready’ (athlete oriented)
- Model taking time for yourself too!