Help Overstressed Kids Lead Happier Lives

Are you pushing your kids so hard they're in danger of cracking under the pressure? Todd Patkin, author of the new book "Finding Happiness," (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $19.95, www.toddpatkin.com) wants you to take a serious look at the demands you're placing your children. He offers parents some practical tips you can use right now to help overstressed, overscheduled, overwhelmed kids create happier, healthier, more balanced lives.

"As the parent of a teenage son, I still have a personal stake in the well-being of America's students, and I have seen firsthand just how oppressive our current system can be when the emphasis is on outcomes instead of on true education," Patkin points out. Across our country, there's an epidemic of teens and even pre-teens suffering from anxiety and depression, cutting themselves as a cry for help and using prescription medications just to get through their day-to-day lives. Kids are drinking to excess and doing drugs on the weekends in order to escape this incredible pressure, even if only for one night. Most worrying of all, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among teens. Sixty percent say they've thought about it, and 9 percent of high schoolers admit they've attempted it at least once.

"We should all ask ourselves the following questions when our sons or daughters come home with four great grades and one that's not so good (for example, four As and one B): Do we focus on how great the As are? Or is our first response, 'What happened? Why did you get the B in this course?'" Patkin says. "It's important to realize that by celebrating the As, you're still letting your child know that top marks are the goal, but you're doing it in a much healthier and celebratory way than by being immediately disappointed over the one grade that was lacking.

Accept that not all kids are the same. Resist the natural tendency to compare your own children to others. "No two children are ever going to be alike, and that's a good thing! Our world needs variety and uniqueness. And trust me-your kids will be happy adults only if they too learn to love and be okay with themselves as they are and for who they are."

Some kids are good in science in math, others in writing and communication, others in sports. There are different kinds of intelligence. Cookie cutter education does not work. If your child is weak in math, get him or her extracurricular help, get them involved in math club where they can socialize with other kids that can help them or pay for private tutoring.

"Direct your child's attention to all of the things he does well instead of allowing him to fixate on his few slip-ups and shortcomings," instructs Patkin. "The best way to teach this is to model such behavior. In the long run, developing their skills in a few things they're good at and maybe even passionate about, will help them much more than trying to do a little of everything and burning out on all of it."

Another way to help kids is teach them to live in the present. If your child spends most of her time thinking about what she could have done better in the past or stressing about what might go wrong in the future, she'll miss out on actually living her life. (This is a problem that plagues plenty of adults too!) To cut back on stress, help your teen to focus her attention on all of the good things in her life right now.

Consider designating a homework area, complete with storage folders for each child and class. Being organized sets you up for success not just in school but throughout your life. It's often the little things that have the biggest impact but only if you remember to do them in a timely manner!"

Time management also helps. "If your child is a morning person, encourage him to get up twenty minutes early to practice violin or review for a test before school," Patkin advises. "Likewise, if he's a night owl, let him sleep as late as possible in the morning."Goal setting is good for both you and your child and it helps to break a big project down into manageable chunks that won't be overwhelming but will still your child a sense of accomplishment."

Promote exercise. This is extremely important! If your child is already involved in a sport or athletic activity, great! It will help him feel more relaxed and stronger, it will improve his sleep, and it's also a great natural anti-depressant. If physical activity isn't a big part of your teen's life, encourage him to find a way to be active that he enjoys.

"Exercise is the single most important thing your child, you, or anyone else can do to become less stressed and happier right now," Patkin promises. "Exercise is a fantastic energizer and it actually opens you up to future change by invigorating your mind and body. You might even consider making physical activity a family event! Go for a hike in the mountains, for a swim at the YMCA, or just go for a walk around the neighborhood. You'll all benefit from the quality time together as well as from getting your blood pumping."

"Always remember that the ability to cultivate happiness and balance is one of the best possible ways to set your child up for success," Patkin concludes. "Yes, performance and doing one's best are important, but not at the price of your child's well-being."

Todd Patkin is author of "Finding Happiness: One Man's Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and-Finally-Let the Sunshine In" (StepWise Press, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9658261-9-8, $19.95, www.toddpatkin.com)