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Manage Stress and Behaviors at Home: Strategies from Dr. Lauren Stutman

Manage Stress and Behaviors at Home: Strategies from Dr. Lauren Stutman

Published: Nov. 3, 2020Updated: Feb. 6, 2024

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Last week, we spoke with founder and clinical director of CARE-LA, Dr. Lauren Stutman, to find out about strategies we can implement from home to support our kids as they weather challenges. In this second installment, she talks about reducing distractibility, practicing “good enough socialization,” and how to handle stress — both our kids’ and our own.
3 key takeaways
  1. If your child struggles to focus doing schoolwork, help them by having them move their body, reduce distractions, and take regular eye and body breaks.
  2. Practice “good enough socialization” with a sibling, pet, or even bug-hunting in the yard — interacting with any living creature is a boon.
  3. Consider ways to better manage your own stress, such as meditating alone or with your kids!

Strategies to help kids stay calm, focused, and engaged while doing schoolwork

To help kids focus, we can try certain things that enlist their bodies. These are all great strategies to use at home, and some may be incorporated in a school environment too!

  • First, create an environment that’s comfortable. Make sure your child has a comfortable chair and that their feet touch the floor, if possible. If they're working at a computer, make sure the screen is at eye level.

  • Research indicates that when a subgroup of kids with ADHD have something to do with their body, they process information better, so consider trying a standing desk, using a yoga ball instead of a chair, or even using a stationary bike.

  • Add sensory elements such as squishies, silly putty, or Speks magnets.

  • Remind your child to look away from their screen periodically. The American Optometric Association recommends the 20-20-20 rule: take a 20-second break every 20 minutes by looking at something 20 feet away. When we’re on the computer, we’re not blinking as much, which can lead to eye strain, distractibility, and irritability.

  • Use visual timers to remind your child to get up and stretch. You can talk with your child's teacher about incorporating visual aids at school.

  • At home, encourage your child to go on a walk with you, get outside, or do some sort of yoga video (check out Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube!). It’s so important to get their bodies moving and get fresh air.

Finally, remember that in addition to contributing to screen overload, screen time can have negative impacts on behaviors. We know from the world of psychology that rewards work better for behaviors than punishment, so try to limit screen time and instead use it as a reward.

What about socialization and its effects on anxiety?

The truth of the matter is that socialization feeds the brain. We’re social animals — socialization is necessary for our survival — and not having quality social time definitely impacts our mental health.

While it’s important to practice peer interactions, any face-to-face interactions — with parents, siblings, caretakers, even animals — are going to feed that social part of the brain. It’s important to remember that socialization is not so black and white: i.e., either they’re with their friends or they’re done for. There’s a term in psychology called the “good enough parent” (which comes from British pediatrician and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott), so we could call this the “good enough socialization.” We need to get some of that social activity going in our kids’ brains.

  • Set up playdates at home for peer interaction where kids can regulate and avoid sensory overwhelm. Kids can do an art project or have a movie night.

  • Even socializing on a screen can be beneficial. Maybe your child can make something or bake a cake at the same time as a peer or family member over Zoom — this also pairs a physical activity with social time.

  • You might consider getting your child a pet if they don’t have one. Socializing with any animal can have therapeutic value. Even get your child outside hunting for bugs: really, anything that involves another living being helps.

Quality time together is more important than quantity. We’re with our kids so much, and many of us are pushed to the brim, so it’s important to remember that you don’t have to do a two-hour art project to spend QT together. Try singing a song while they brush their teeth, for instance, to bring fun into something we still have to do every day.

Here are a few other things you could try to shake up your routine, which Dr. Stutman calls her “bonding activities menu”:

  • Create a daily journal — this can be a drawing, a few sentences, or stickers that show how your child is feeling
  • Watch the sunrise or sunset
  • Go stargazing
  • Cook a favorite meal (or dessert!)
  • Start a blog
  • Explore someplace new, whether it’s around the corner or a country on National Geographic Kids
  • Research an unfamiliar topic online (can you keep a pet lizard?)
  • Rearrange your furniture
  • Write a poem together
  • Play cards
  • Have a picnic in your backyard

Dr. Stutman's advice for managing stress

A stressed-out parent is going to make for a less effective parent. It’s important that we realize it’s not whether you’re going to mess your kids up but how! Dr. Stutman told us, “I’m going to mess my kid up, and if they have the resources, they’ll go to therapy! My favorite supervisor used to say, 'I have two savings funds: one for college and one for therapy.' If we accept that we will mess them up in some way or another we’ll breathe a little easier, and we’ll have more energy to be a better and more present parent.” Sometimes we’re going to find ourselves in a bad place, and that’s okay. Just say to yourself, “Right now, it’s like this.”

Check out Dr. Stutman's meditation for kids on how to make a safe space inside their minds that they can visit whenever they need it. Watch it with them, maybe even do it with them!

And then there’s a TED talk every parent should watch called How to Make Stress Your Friend. In it, psychologist Kelly McGonigal talks about a study that found that people who believe stress is harmful (and most of us do, because that’s what science has told us) have a higher incidence of morbidity when they encounter a major life stressor. We should think about how to use this placebo effect — if we know that stress can make us stronger, this knowledge will impact how we respond to the stressor.

The stories we tell ourselves play a huge role in our physical bodies, the energy we bring into a room, and really everything we do. So pay attention to the stories you’re telling yourself — about yourself, about this experience, about your children, and about the importance of their education. Yes, their education is important, but it’s not as important as their mental health and their relationship with you.

If you notice you’re telling yourself a negative story, Dr. Stutman has a little saying: “Don’t be upset that you thought it; be proud that you caught it.” This way, you won’t go down a spiral of other critical self-talk. We need to be aware of our patterns in order to change them, and noticing our inner critic is the first step to overcoming it and transmuting it into the loving voice we all deserve to hear.

Want to learn more from Dr. Stutman? Check out CARE-LA’s blog.



Strategies to help kids stay calm, focused, and engaged while doing schoolwork

What about socialization and its effects on anxiety?

Dr. Stutman's advice for managing stress

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Undivided Editorial TeamStaff

Reviewed by Undivided Editorial Team,

Contributors Dr. Lauren Stutman, Licensed psychologist and founder of CARE-LA

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