My walk home from the gym takes me right past Rutland Middle School and it's really good to see kids walking, talking and hanging out together. Being together and social interaction is an important part of their development, growth and how they deal with situations in the real world.
As a mom and self-proclaimed “health nut”, I tend to notice things when it comes to kids. Part of that also comes from the decade and a half of working with kids with special needs. Occupational hazard. And people are interesting. We can learn a lot about a lot of things when we pay attention to those around us. Anyway, walking home this week I noticed a few things on the faces and in the hands of several of the kids I encountered. Stress and sugar.
Just to back track a little for all the new readers, there are six components to look at when it comes to achieving and maintaining health. Stress, sleep, water, nutrition, exercise, supplements, in order of importance. Each one affects the other, positively or negatively, depending on where you're at with that component. It really should be no surprise that stress is at the top of this list. As I've written about before, whether it's acute (short term) or chronic (constant), stress affects all areas of our lives, including the lives of our kids. And for those people who are saying, “What do kids have to stress about?”, it's all a matter of perception. We, adults and kids alike, can only ever see things from our own perspective. Stress occurs when we encounter a real or perceived danger. Our brain doesn't differentiate and the negative effects are the same.
Back to school can be a stressful time for both kids are parents. For parents it's more about dealing with the changes in schedule, logistics for getting everyone where they need to be on time, costs involved with buying school clothes, supplies and fees and the new extracurricular activities that often come with. For kids it can be going to a new school and not knowing anyone, entering middle or high school and afraid of getting lost trying to find all the different classrooms. Then there's the clothes, shoes, hairstyles, and wondering whether they will fit in or stand out in an awkward or bad way. And these were all before covid was thrown into the mix. Try reading someone's facial cues from across the room when everyone's masked up. It's not easy and it's stressful.
Any readers out there ever reach for ice cream, cookies, chips, etc., or perhaps even a drink or a cigarette, when $h!t hit the fan? Yep, we've all been there. Did bad food or stimulants solve the situation? Likely not. In fact, I'd bet that the guilt that came with over indulgence of bad choices made the situation even worse. At least mentally. And kids are no different. I would say that at least half of the kids I saw were nursing sort of over-sized take-out drink or using a vape. Definitely not the best way to start the day, or the year.
What can you do about it? Be the example. The do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do doesn't work much past kindergarten. If you're lucky. Parents, take note of how you're handling your own stressful situations. It's ok to let you child see that you're stressed, that's a part of life. Let them also see you handle and resolve it by making good choices for your health. Let's say things haven't been going well at work. Morning rolls around, you're mind is all over the place about what's happened or what might happen (perceived stress remember?) when you get there. You can either, hit snooze a few too many times, skip breakfast and rush out the door without more than a few words to your family, or, make a point to get up a few mins early, take a few minutes to yourself to relax, sit down with your family and actually eat breakfast and talk. Let the know you might be having a tough day and ask what's been going on with everyone else. It may seem minor to you, but to the 12yr old who had a timetable change the day before and has no idea where his new classroom is for first period, a few encouraging words and help with the school map is invaluable. Trust me, you'll both start the day feeling good.
And when we take the time to do these little things that sometimes go against what we feel like doing in the moment, we are telling our kids, 1. It's ok to talk about problems. 2. You are a safe person to talk to. 3. Taking the time to eat breakfast is important. And you all know how I feel about breakfast. Your mom was right, it is the most important meal of the day. Starting the day with real, whole foods, including protein, plus a big glass of water, and then taking some more protein and whole foods to work and kids to school, will keep that blood sugar balanced, lower internal stress and eliminate sugar cravings. Repeat this process again at dinner for maximum effect and you'll soon find that you and your kids will be healthier and feeling less stressed. And that's a win for you both.
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