Keeping calm and coping with term four

The brief behind this article was how to create a calm and workable routine for term four, but – from where I sit – term four already has that snowball vibe, like we’re gaining momentum at a daunting pace and it might be easiest if we just hold on tight and ride it out till Christmas. However, since I get heart palpitations every time I walk past the family calendar at the moment, I reckon there could be some merit to a more considered approach.

After the twists and turns of 2020, we’re all a bit tired. Everyone I talk to is experiencing some degree of stress and is hanging out for a summer holiday. As parents, we have the added challenge of helping our kids navigate busyness and pressure, while simultaneously juggling our own responsibilities.

There is no end to the opportunities and activities that our kids can participate in. All these experiences can be tempting, especially for more extroverted folk who might be making up for lost time post lockdown! But in reality, they’re also taxing. Ensuring schedules aren’t jam-packed is our responsibility as parents. Kids don’t always know what is best for them, and even us grown-ups can say ‘Yes’ to things that might not be in the best interests of our family’s wellbeing.

For our teens, term four is a big deal. Many of them are facing exams and NCEA assessments. With all the disruptions of the previous two terms, our high schoolers may be feeling especially anxious as they face final assessments. Stress can manifest in different ways. It can help to recognise what exam stress looks likes for your teen. Avoidance is common – watching YouTube instead of studying, for example. Over-reactions to the slightest irritation are another indicator. Stress could also look like withdrawal.

As parents, we need to look past the behaviour to the softer emotions that often sit just below the surface. Getting curious as to what might be going on for our child or teen is really helpful. They may be experiencing a fear of failing, as well as anxiety around a lack of time to study or feeling unprepared. Empathy is so powerful here. While we can’t do their study or sit the exams for them, we can remind them that we are always there, cheering them on from the sideline. And we can feed them. Food makes everything better.

Tricky as it is, we need to resist the temptation to lecture. Your teen has slept in again and there’s no time for both breakfast and the walk to the bus stop. Your impulses may tell you that this is a good moment for some ‘helpful tips’ on time management. What your teen would really benefit from, however, is a display of unconditional love and support. Probably by way of a ride to the bus. There is a time for learning via natural consequences, but term four 2020 is probably a time for grace!

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Some stress and big feelings are inevitable as we power towards the end of the year. A tool we talk about at Parenting Place is Pause, Hold, Engage. It has nothing to do with rugby, and everything to do with regulating emotions. Basically the aim is to pause for a few deep breaths when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Hold for a few moments, instead of reacting, and ask yourself why you might be feeling the way you are. Once calm, your clever brain is better equipped to engage some good ideas for addressing whatever issue you’re facing.

When I’m busy and my day/week is overscheduled, I tend to feel anxious about getting everything done. Within my lovely whānau, this can look like some unlovely irritation and shoutyness on my part. When I pause, I give myself a moment to think about what’s really going on behind the rising heartrate. Not only do my feelings then make more sense, but I also have better ideas on how to cope. It’s not an instant fix, because commitments often still need working out, but it is a catalyst for some healthier decision-making around what we take on as a family, and what we say ‘No thanks’ to.

As we reflect on 2020, one of the things we’ve all had some practise at is the art of doing less. Lockdown obviously forced our hand here, but when we all rushed back to ‘normal life’, many of us missed those quiet days of blank diary pages. Term four will be a busy one, and at times it might feel a bit overwhelming for parents and kids alike. Taking a moment to Pause, Hold and Engage when confronted with big feelings can really help us maintain perspective and feel more in control … before the season really gets silly.

This article was first published in the NZ Herald, October 2020.


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About Author

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.

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