Graceful Health: A successful school year includes structure, communication, and positive stress

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In just a matter of days, school will be added to families' daily plans: getting up and ready for it, doing homework after it, hopefully enjoying friendships and feeling proud of accomplishments.

Three concepts can guide families through a successful school year: structure, communication, and positive stress.

It's been said many times — routine and structure help both children and adults to function at their best. And it's true; people do manage well when they set regular times for waking up and sleeping, meals and brushing teeth, homework and play. Initiating and maintaining these healthy routines and habits can provide predictability and stability for all ages.

Structure also includes home rules, like honesty and respect, how much screen time a child gets, and whose chore it is to set the table. Understanding and following these rules helps to provide consistency and teach accountability and responsibility as well.

Making time to be together as a family can be a significant challenge, and doing so can provide structure. It also promotes good communication. Time may be limited, so make the most of it. Try to have dinner as a family every day. During that time, shut off all the noise.

In today's world, everyone seems to be constantly communicating in every imaginable way. We text, tweet, Facetime, Instagram, chat, Musical.ly and more. Add radio, TV, YouTube and video games, and it seems as if we must shout to be heard.

Instead, let the dinner table be a place for family stories, for learning and understanding family values, for staying tuned in to individual lives and working together as a family. Prepare the food together, set the table, sit together, and focus on being real. Slow down enough to read facial expressions, hear tones of voice, and demonstrate compassion, love and concern for one another. Kids can even learn to argue well and disagree and still go on with life. Share the meal together, and clean up as a group. For tweens and teens, dinner can be an excellent time for parent-child check-in, maintaining that connection and offering support to older, more independent children. Perhaps no age group is more bombarded with noise every day than this group. They understand the negatives of global news, are some of the greatest users of social media, and their cohort is the most savvy and likely to use constant, instant connection in cruel ways.

Communication in a supportive environment can help to mitigate stress. No matter what age we are, school and work are often seen as stressful. Contrary to majority opinion, though, stress can actually be very good for us, if it's good stress. This is stress we take on willingly. We know it's hard and we do it anyway. Like parenting. Like our jobs. Like helping someone in trouble. For kids, school stress can be an opportunity to achieve a new goal, learn a new concept, stretch abilities, and reach new understandings.

Here are three TEDx Talks about positive stress, getting what you want, and the power of positive thinking (all available on YouTube): Kelly McGonigal: "How to make stress your friend"; Mel Robbins: "How to stop screwing yourself over"; and Shawn Achor: "The happy secret to better work."

In addition, you may find it helpful to read the webpage titled "Parenting Your School-Age Child," on the Building Community Building Hope website. It includes the following advice: Talk to children about what you expect. Post rules and routines where everyone can see them. Fewer grey areas mean less to argue about; support their growing bodies. Children this age (6-12) still need nutritious meals (especially breakfast) and 10 hours of sleep each night; limit time spent watching TV, playing video games, or using the computer. Monitor Internet use for safety, and encourage your children to participate in hobbies and sports; and parents of teens and tweens need to know about videochat live-streaming apps. Christine Elgersma's article "Common Sense Media," posted on the www.cnn.com website is a good resource.

Another article I recommend is www.webmd.com's "Five Mistakes Parents Make with Teens and Tweens," especially the part about "Discipline: Too Much/Too Little," which offers the following: "As their parent, it's up to you to set your family's core values and communicate them through your words and actions. [That] approach 'helps children develop the skills they need to govern themselves in appropriate ways,' says Richard Lerner, PhD, director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University. Remember, your influence runs deeper than you may think. Most teens say they want to spend more time with their parents. Keep making time for your child throughout the tween and teen years. Even when it doesn't show, you provide the solid ground they know they can always come home to."

Eileen Arama received her Bachelor's from the University of Connecticut and her Master's of Social Work from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. She provides clinical counseling at Grace Cottage to adults and children.

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