Back to Basics: How Parents of Anxious Kids Can Make Life Easier for Everyone

For families with a child or children who suffer from anxiety, simplifying your life may be the simplest way to relieve stress. If you are a family with a busy schedule this may seem hard to do. Taking stock of all of your family obligations and activities and prioritizing is the place to begin. By adding down time to your schedule, you open your family up to better rest, more downtime and more opportunities to be creative. But simplifying your life isn’t just about schedules. Our lives are also cluttered with too many objects that require attention and add to everyday stress. Looking at simplifying your family’s life means not only getting rid of activities that take up time; it also means de-clutttering and organizing every part of your life.

Simplify Your Home

Getting your home into a simple state of being is one of the first things you can do to help relieve anxiety in children. Kids who suffer from anxiety are often stressed out when over-stimulated. The spaces children frequent can either contribute to the problem or help relieve it. Look at the living spaces in your home. Home office areas with too much paper clutter look messy and add frustration due to lack of organization. Mud rooms with too many pairs of shoes and boots make getting outside seem overwhelming to a child with too many choices. Kid’s rooms that are messy and unorganized lead to anxiety in children as they try to pick out clothes and find items needed for school. Too many electronic gadgets in the family room can lead to distraction or frustration when the right controller cannot be found. Taking inventory in each space in your house and getting rid of things you do not need means less things to keep track of and to clean. Ask yourself the following questions as you go room to room clearing up the clutter:

  • Has it been worn in the last year? This is true for you, your spouse and your children. Place outgrown children’s clothing into bins labeled by size to use for younger siblings. If there are no younger siblings, place items in bags and give to a charity. Get a record of your donation for tax purposes. Get rid of rarely-worn adult clothing the same way, or consider taking to a consignment shop if you want cash for your items right away. Take stock of outgrown or worn out boots, coats and other winter items and give away things that don’t fit.
  • How many pairs do we really need? If your mud room is overflowing with too many shoes, use the two pair rule. Choose one pair of outside play shoes and one pair of regular shoes to keep in bins in your mud room. All other shoes must be stored in bedroom closets. This keeps the bins from over flowing and mud rooms free from floor debris. Make each member of the family stick to this rule and consider donating unworn shoes to charity with other clothing items.
  • Am I really going to read it? Each day kitchen tables, counter tops and chairs get piled with sale flyers, coupons and newspapers. If your family is constantly piling up the day’s mail without reading it, use a quick and easy filing system to cut down on the paper trail. Find a place in your kitchen to put four baskets or bins. Near the back door is a good place since each member of the family has to pass the containers as they come inside. Quickly sort the mail as you come in into one of the three bins labled: bills, news, coupons, school. At the end of each week, or every three days, sit down and sort through what you have. Recycle coupons and newspapers, place bills at your desk and sort through school papers as needed. Knowing you can organize this area quickly without having to deal with it every day relieves tension as you come in the door. Children with anxiety especially benefit from having a place to put their papers as they come in, as they know you will see what needs to be seen.
  • Do I need so much? Many people shop at big box stores to stock up and get a good deal. The down side to stocking up is a pantry that is cluttered and difficult to keep organized. If you have the space to buy in bulk it can save you money, but if you are not organized with your buying you end up spending more money. This is especially true if things get pushed to the back of the cabinets and go uneaten before they become stale. Consider planning your meals and shopping only for a week at a time. You’ll have less clutter in the kitchen, eat better meals and have less waste at the end of the week.
  • Is there anything my kids can give away? Children with anxiety need calm, soothing spaces to think, create and rest. That is why too many toys or distraction in bedrooms can become stressful because there are more things to worry about putting away or keeping organized. Teach your children the pleasure of giving by having them go through their rooms twice each year- once before a gifting holiday like Christmas or Hanukah and once before their birthdays. Use two large garbage bags, one for give-aways and one for broken things that cannot be recycled. Help younger children make decisions about what to keep and what to give away, but let older children make their own choices.

Finding ways to de-clutter your space gives you more time to relax and play with your kids because you have less to worry about. Helping children discover how freeing this can be early in life will give them the gift of extra time for years to come.

Simplify Meals

Another family time snatcher can be trying to answer the question, “What’s for dinner?” Planning a week of meals at a time can make trips to the grocery story less stressful and free up time to do other things. Weekly meal planning also allows you to decide what days are cooking days and what days are leftover days. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Cook in large batches whenever possible. Chili, spaghetti sauce and soup freeze and re-heat well. Serve with a side salad and bread, and you have a complete meal in just a few minutes.
  • Plan leftover meals for those days when your children have after-school activities, practice or music lessons. Since these nights should be no more than two to three a week, a typical meal plan could be Monday-cook, Tuesday-cook, Wednesday-leftovers, Thursday-leftovers, Friday- cook, Saturday-leftovers.
  • Decide ahead of time what night you might want to include carry-out or a meal at a restaurant and plan this into your food budget.
  • Purchase healthy snacks that travel easily for treats on the way to afterschool activities and keep them in car. This avoids the temptation of grabbing something at a drive through that may or may not be a healthy snack choice.
  • Recreate leftovers to prevent boredom. Meatloaf on Monday can be made into meatloaf sandwiches on Wednesday. Tuesday’s chili can be five-way chili over spaghetti on Thursday or chilidogs on Friday.
  • Keep meals simply and still provide balance. Get protein and carbs by putting together casseroles. Add veggies and fruit with a side salad and applesauce. Make enough for two casseroles on a day you are cooking and put one in the freezer for a quick meal another week.

Consider stocking up on some of these pantry staples to make flavorful meals fast:

  • Couscous
  • Pasta
  • Canned beans: chili, great northern, pinto and cannellini
  • Eggs
  • Shredded cheese
  • Frozen vegetables and fruits
  • Pre-washed lettuce
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Lean ground turkey
  • Chicken, beef and vegetable stock
  • Fat-free Greek yogurt
  • Frozen pie crusts
  • Canned whipped cream
  • Brown and white rice
  • Canned tomatoes and tomatoe sauce
  • Chili powder, cumin, oregano, basil
  • Fresh lemons
  • Baking mix

Cooking for your family is the best way to make sure your children are getting all the nutrition they need. Sitting around the table eating together is a great way to relax and reduce stress for everyone in the home.

Simplify Your Finances

Getting the family budget under control is the best way to simplify your finances and bring more peace to your life. Kids who suffer from anxiety pick up on tension in the home, and money matters problems cause more tension than just about anything. The more you get yourself and your family on a budget, the more time you will have to really enjoy the things most important to you. Simplifying your budget by making a few easy changes:

  • Get your finances organized into a central location so you and your spouse have equal access at all times.
  • Budget all money that comes into the house. Set amounts for savings, retirement, college funds, groceries, gas, entertainment, bills and any other area you regularly spend money on.
  • Make a list of each area with the budgeted amount and the actual amount spent in one month to get a good overall picture of how you are spending you money.
  • Make adjustments to the budget according to those amounts and stick to it.
  • Pay bills online whenever possible. This saves time and money since there are no checks to writer and no trips to the post office to make.

Teach your kids how to budget their own allowances and give them extra money when you can for extra jobs done around the house after regular chores. When children learn early where money comes from and how it must be used, they are less likely to take what you do for granted and more likely to develop good spending habits of their own.

Simplify Your Schedule

With all the time you will save having less clutter, better meal planning and a budget in place, finding more time in your schedule will be easier. This is probably the most difficult area to simplify, as we tend to think everything we do is of equal important. For the child with anxiety, over scheduling can be a recipe for disaster. Overscheduled children are more likely to be tired, cranky and less able to focus than kids who have a more balanced life. Children with anxiety already suffer from a heightened sense of worry and fear, and adding too much pressure to perform in too many areas is overwhelming. For most kids two to three afternoons a week of extra curricular activity is more than enough. Remember to choose things that your child really loves rather than choosing just because others are doing a certain activity. If your child begins to show signs that he or she is not happy in a sport or lesson, it is time to re-evaluate. Remember that letting something go makes way for something else, so saying no is not always a bad thing.

A great way to take stock of your family’s schedule is to have a family meeting. Look at the schedule as a whole rather than as individuals. This will teach children early that everything they do effects everyone else, and that family time is a priority. And remember that as a parent, everything the kids want to do means time spent shuttling kids from one activity to the next. If you are overly tired and stressed out from too many activities you will not be able to set the right tone in your home. The more rested and relaxed you are, the more your children will be.

Simplifying your life may seem impossible. But spending a little time now evaluating what you own, what you need and what you do as a family can free up more time for appreciating the things that are really important.