One of the reasons I studied psychology in college — actually, pretty much THE reason — was to learn to get a better grasp of my own life and deepen my understanding of the human condition in general. Illness, friendships, romantic relationships, children, teaching, working… I learned a lot about the unhealthy ways in which we as people tend to approach a lot of life’s facets. And I learned a lot about changing those patterns for a less stressful, more optimistic, and generally healthier life. One thing that’s stuck with me since school is how a well-raised kid has it made. A well-raised kid is looked after, respected, acknowledged, encouraged, and loved. They’re playful, expressive, and they have just enough control over their lives to fall down and pick themselves back up, but not so much that they feel like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. If you’re a parent, you know the importance of scheduling food and sleep, allowing for playtime and expression, giving kids autonomy, listening to them, and forgiving them their shortcomings. But my question is “Why did any of that have to stop?” Adults need all of the same support, whether they’re getting it from themselves, their family, their friends, their colleagues, or even strangers. We get cranky if we go too long without eating or don’t have enough control, too. We just don’t tend to throw tantrums about it.
So, here are some thoughts for kids of all ages.
1. Eat at the same time every day.
When you eat, your blood sugar goes up, insulin kicks in, and your body stores that energy for later. Eat too much too frequently, and you wind up with insulin resistance and chronically high blood sugar levels. Eat too little or too infrequently, and your blood sugar tanks. Either way, you’re looking at some serious health problems. Eating balanced meals at the same time every day at reasonable intervals — instead of grazing or fasting — regulates our blood sugar. This in turn regulates our hormones, keeping us happy, energetic, fit, and fertile. Feeling grumpy, fatigued, or just plain “crappy” between or after meals is your body’s way of saying “eat better, please!”
2. Sleep at the same time every day.
Sleep also plays an integral role in regulating our digestion, hormones, and circadian rhythm. Yet “bedtime” pretty much becomes a foreign concept once we hit our teens. Most of the people my age have a bit of an “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” attitude, never willing to miss out on a bit of night life — whether that’s going out on the town or staying up to watch movies — by tucking themselves in at a reasonable hour. But it never stops being important to get at least eight hours a night. If you’ve gotta be up at six AM, then hit the sack around ten the night before whether you feel tired or not. There’s plenty of time to see friends or play video games later. There is no excuse to not prioritize sleep — especially if you have any health problems (including insomnia).
3. Socialize. Have fun. Be silly and spontaneous.
Most kids get a lot of playtime, hanging out with friends during recess, after school, and on weekends. Sidewalk chalk, roller skating, riding bakes, playing make-believe, and board games are all fond memories from my childhood. Somehow, when “adulthood” hit, I suddenly spent more of my free time in solitary pursuits like reading and writing. Yeah, it’s a bit harder to get your friends together when you all have different work schedules or family lives. But it’s still just as important to have “play time” as it was when we were kids. Put together a community game night, host potlucks, go bowling, hiking, swimming, join a book club… anything that involves old friends and/or meeting new people. Even if you’re on your own for the day or staying in with your loved one(s), just goof off. Pillow fights, tickling, charades, crazy dancing, fun DIY projects, and role-playing are all great ways to stimulate your adventurous, creative side. Heck, grabbing the kind of toys you had or wish you’d had as a kid (a cute coloring book, an awesome lego set, a fancy model car) can be a fun way to de-stress. Just cut loose every now and then!
4. Don’t bury your emotions or ignore recurring problems.
Okay, so it may not be the best idea to start screaming, shouting, crying, or laughing wildly in the middle of the grocery store. Kids can — and should — get away with it, but we tend to ostracize adults that behave that way. But there’s a lot of wiggle room between “overreacting” and “bottling everything up”. If you’re angry or upset, don’t take it out on someone or something — even hitting a pillow in a fit of anger can increase abusive behavior — but instead take a deep breath, calm down, and then consider the circumstances. What exactly made you angry or upset to begin with? Are there any productive ways you can address the issue so that it doesn’t happen again, or do you need to take a deep breath and get on with your day? If someone cuts you off at an intersection but nobody got hit or hurt, is it really worth getting angry about? If a co-worker’s habits are annoying you, can you approach him/her respectfully? If you’ve got a chronic illness, isn’t it more exhausting to be upset about it than to embrace it? Keeping things buried doesn’t resolve anything, and ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away. Talk it out. Be proactive. Getting in more positive thinking, meditation, exercise, and sunlight can all help us deal emotionally with the things we can’t change.
5. Enjoy your autonomy.
Being an adult can be pretty overwhelming. We’ve got big life decisions to make. What should I study? Do I want to stay in this relationship? Is this the right time to get married or have kids? If I get offered a job across the country, should I take it? Even something like calling the cable company to resolve issues with your bill is exhausting. These are some pretty big issues and most of the time, I’d love nothing more than to hide in a blanket fort and let someone else deal with them. But that’s when I have to remind myself that I am absolutely free in every other sense. Sure, I’ve gotta go to work and I’ve gotta prepare meals, pay bills, and get the car fixed. But I also get to make my own decisions about what I eat, when I go to bed, who I spend time with, and where I go. I’m no longer being dragged to my parents’ friends’ houses for boring potlucks or shuffled into church at Christmas. I don’t have to ask my dad if we can get a puppy or listen to my mom’s criticisms of my clothing choices. I get to make all of those decisions myself. And when I decide to do something that’s good for me and my household, I should feel proud of it.
6. Communicating means listening at least as much as you speak.
Let’s go back to #4 for a second. Say you approached your co-worker and wondered politely if they could eat their crunchy, crackly chips in the break room instead of right next to your desk. Or perhaps you just told your spouse about your horrible, awful day. Well, you need to be receptive if and when people approach you with similar issues. Listen to others when they talk, whether they’re telling a story, asking for advice, or just getting something off their chest. Being a good listener is one of the most important things about being a good friend, partner, or employee. Give people the consideration you want them to give you, and hopefully they’ll return the favor.
7. And loving someone means loving them no matter what.
Everyone screws up. If I repeatedly ask my husband to pick up some avocados on the way home from work and he always forgets, do I stop loving him? I sure hope not! And I sure hope that he continues to love me even when I ask stupid questions or scratch the car or lose my job. Relationships — romantic or otherwise — need to go both ways. If you’ve got a good friend that has been by your side through thick and thin, do the same for them and cherish that relationship. If you screwed up and your friend forgave you, forgive them right back next time you’re feeling bitter about something they’ve done. Healthy relationships have no room for leaving grudges, resentment, or disappointment unaddressed. Make up, and get right back to lovin’ each other.
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