Sammy came home from the first week of 5th grade with a large project. His teacher asked the kids to do a presentation on which college they wanted to attend. They were asked to include their major, the reason for picking the school, the requirements for attending, the cost, and any other details that made the school unique. The whole assignment stressed Sammy out and he began to cry when he got home.
His mom was furious. Sammy’s aspirations in life included trying to eat as many Oreos in one sitting as he could, mastering the next level of Fortnite, building a Lego structure taller than him, and beating his brother in their latest wrestling match. The idea that he should know or even care about what college he wanted to attend at this age was far from his comprehension. And right it should be.
In an effort to keep up with other nations, the American school system has made some significant errors. They have focused on standardized test scores instead of creativity, on grades instead of critical thinking, and on performance instead of stability. The result is a generation that lacks basic social skills, panics under small amounts of pressure demand instant gratification, and expects immediate success. Worse yet, the consequences are emotionally stunted adults who act a decade younger.
But this can be different. Instead of focusing on homework assignments, parents should pay more attention to the emotional development of their children. By teaching their children how to regulate their emotions, they limit bullying, equip their kids with anger management skills, minimize social anxiety, and set them on a path towards confidence, self-esteem, and happiness.
One of the best methods to accomplish this is taken from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) using the acronym ABC PLEASE.
- Accumulate positive emotions. A feelings chart taken off the internet can be used to explain to the difference between feelings and their ranges. My personal favorite one has facial expressions matched with emotions which also assists kids in noticing the emotions in others. By identifying the emotions, a child can understand their emotional ranges and absorb positivity from others.
- Build mastery. By encouraging kids to be active in activities they enjoy, they develop competence and confidence. Some examples include baking, building, playing dress up, singing, arts, and sports. As an additional bonus, activities that include some social face-to-face interaction or teamwork further social learning. This minimizes hopelessness, depression, and feelings of worthlessness.
- Cope ahead. Teaching kids how to handle stressful situations before they occur can empower them so that they have the necessary tools to manage difficulties. Think of this as practice before a game. If a kid learns deep breathing and relaxation exercises before they experience severe anxiety, they are more likely to handle it well when it occurs. Not that they will do it correctly, but just like reviewing game film afterward, revisiting the stress afterward and improving skills works.
- Physical well-being. Good self-care habits begin early in life. This can be done with regular check-ups, addressing medical needs, exercising the body, and getting adequate rest. Unfortunately, too many parents put their kids in unnecessary activities which exhaust them and physically wear out their growing bodies. A developing body needs extra nutrition and rest to develop correctly and reduce stress.
- Low immunity. When a kid’s body is physically and emotionally stressed, it is more vulnerable to disease and sickness. Since schools tend to be a petri dish of germs and bacteria, it is essential that environments are clean and free from hidden dangers. Teaching kids to wash their hands frequently and not put their hands in their mouth can help reduce the risk of sickness and the trauma that might ensue.
- Eating healthy. Junk food and sugar tend to be a part of a kid’s regular diet. Too much of it can cause long-term consequences. Explaining the importance of eating right can lead to a healthier lifestyle in the future. Emotional reactions can escalate with a poor diet and brain development might be hindered. Some kids even have allergic reactions that look like emotional outbursts. Getting a child checked for allergies can reduce some unneeded emotional stress.
- Avoiding mind-altering substances. This is not just about caffeine, drugs, alcohol, and sugar – sadly this includes video games as well. Anything done in moderation is acceptable, but when done at addictive levels it changes the brain and intensifies emotional reactions such as anxiety, anger, and rage. Limit gaming to 20 minutes at a time with a 10-minute break before returning to the gaming again. This helps to reset the eyes, change the focus, and increase awareness of surroundings.
- Sleep healthy. This is the most essential element. Adequate amounts of sleep can vary from one child to another, so it is essential to know how much sleep each child needs. However, if a child doesn’t get enough sleep, their ability to think clearly is compromised. Worse yet, they could appear to have attention deficit disorder when they don’t have it. Inadequate amounts of sleep don’t allow the brain to restore and rejuvenate, a necessary function for a developing child.
- Exercise regularly. A growing body needs large and small motor group activities that involve all the senses. Activities like sports, walking, reading, listening to music, and yoga help to reduce fatigue and tame intense emotions. Having outdoor time can regulate emotional stress and provide rest from the sensory overload of electronic devices.
Sammy’s mom complained to the school about the inappropriate college assignment and suggested an alternative to teaching kids how to manage stress during a test. This activity was far more beneficial to students than trying to figure out what college they wanted to attend in 8 years and helped contribute to creating a healthy, ABC PLEASE lifestyle.