As we enter the new year and recover from the holidays, I’m recognizing the value of both
consistency and change in children’s lives. Although the kids love the holidays, it is also a period
of dysregulation. All their schedules were disrupted, and they weren’t eating all the “right”
things. This is all ok! As a teacher and a farm mom, I understand that kids’ brains do need a
break. However, as a parent of a child that experiences anxiety, I understand that these changes
can be even more challenging.

Holidays on the farm

Farm life requires consistency and continuity, particularly when caring for livestock, which our
children are actively involved in. At the beginning of the holidays, my husband and I thought it
would be helpful to do the chores for my oldest daughter to ease stress and give her some down
time. Although she seemed to enjoy sleeping in, we soon recognized that her mornings go better
when she has a ‘mission’ (aka chores). She needed the fresh air and the animal therapy!

My youngest daughter struggled in a different way over the break, as she saw her friends go
away on warm holidays with their families. The ‘jealousy monster’ started sitting on her
shoulder and she was mad about having animals to care for. I understand that farm life carries
responsibility, and I gently reminded her that those responsibilities also give her the gift of
having horses to ride all summer.

Simple calming strategies for kids

Just as farm life can be stressful for parents, it’s important to recognize our children too witness
these challenges, in addition to their own experiences with school, friends and family dynamics.
I’ve found a variety of simple strategies that help calm and balance my kids when they’re
dysregulated or overwhelmed.

  1. Box breathing: I guide the kids with breathing in for three seconds, holding for three
    seconds, breathing out to the count of three, holding again for three seconds, and then
    repeating. With practice, the kids have been able to increase the count to four seconds,
    allowing them to breathe more deeply.
  2. Visualization: I have the kids visualize their favorite place to be– which is usually for
    riding their horses at Writing-on-Stone. I encourage them to talk about how it smells,
    what it looks like, and what it sounds like. After they’ve had time to fully visualize their
    safe and comforting place, I support them in talking about what has happened in the day.
  3. Open-ended, positive questions: Have you ever asked your kids how their day was at
    school, only to have them respond, “fine”? I’ve found it helpful to ask open-ended
    questions that encourage them to reflect on the good aspects each day, such as,
    • Who is someone you helped today?
    • Did someone help you today?
    • What is one good thing that happened today?
    • What was something unexpected that happened?
    • What made you smile today?

Now we’re preparing for the return to school, which is another change for the kids, but also
provides predictable routines. The kids don’t want to go back and that is also okay! However, I
know that all kids crave and thrive on knowing what is in store for their day. I know that we will
start our routines again and get back into the swing of it.

Being a parent is tough, as you’re not only managing your own stresses and challenges but need
to be ‘on’ for your children too. I’ve learned that it is not helpful to guilt yourself into thinking
you didn’t do enough, or that you did too much. The key is to recognize that you’re doing the the
best you can for your family and we’re all learning along the way! I hope that the strategies that
have helped my family, will help yours.

Kelsey Garber is an ag mental health advocate and teacher. She runs a mixed farm in
Southern Alberta with her husband and children. Learn more from her @rockytopramblings.

Happy Family Day! We hope you have a chance to spend some quality time together. Here are ten ideas to inspire you:1. Go for a family walk or hike2. Go skating, skiing or snowshoeing 3. Play board games together 4. Visit a local art gallery or museum5. Cook or bake something together6. Go swimming7. Have a craft night8. Head to the library and pick out books to read together9. Build something with Lego 10. Start your garden seeds ... See MoreSee Less
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