THE BLOG
12/10/2013 07:36 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2014

3 Simple Solutions to Help Reduce Childhood Stress and Boost Your Child's Academic Potential

In the first part of this four-part blog series on the importance of parental involvement, I've shared that parents are the key to helping reduce stress in their children and boosting their children's academic performance and IQ. In the second part of this series, we discussed how redefining quality time is an important part of successful parenting. In this third part of the series, I'm going to share some quick and easy examples of ways that you can help lower your child's stress levels and boost your child's academic potential.

Tip #1: Incorporate baroque music to your daily routines

Music is a bridge between our right and left hemispheres. Music allows our bodies to become relaxed and gives our minds a chance to open to their fullest potential. This, in turn, brings forth the possibility for our memories to work at a heightened state.

Jannalea Hoffman, a music therapist from the University of Kansas, found that music can help students do better on tests. She created a baroque piece of music that followed slow sound patterns and played it as background music for a group of nursing students taking a test; the control group did not hear the music. Hoffman found that those listening to the music had lower heart rates and higher test scores than the control group.

In my upcoming book, Smart for Life, I write about how baroque music in particular helps. Because baroque music moves at 60 beats per minute, in the andante movement, it is syncopated to your heartbeat. The music essentially calms your mind and relaxes your brain, and allows you to use the brain like an orchestra.

Ideas to help you incorporate music into your family life:

  • Start early. If you have a baby, play Baroque music during bath times, meal times, and before nap times.
  • Play Baroque music while your child is doing homework.
  • If your older children protest the idea of Baroque classical music, begin gently by playing it while cooking dinner or cleaning the house. Keep it on in the background at home as much as possible.

Tip #2: Practice progressive relaxation techniques, meditation and breathing techniques as a family

Something as simple as monitoring and paying attention to your breathing, and relaxing into your breath, can help lower stress levels. By lowering your stress levels, and that of your children, you can bring daily health benefits to the whole family. Progressive relaxation techniques, such as the ones I use in my meditation audio downloads, can lower blood pressure, improve circulation and pump more blood to prefrontal cortex, which allows us to process our thoughts better.

We get the best of who we are when we put ourselves in what is known as this relaxed alpha state, because instead of being blocked by anxiety and stress, we have access to our natural state, which is peaceful, and our natural self, which is our potential. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, can actually change the structure and architecture of our brain. By reducing stress, you can lower your blood pressure, increase circulation and process information better. This allows us to use our brain laterally. By relaxing the body, you can reduce your cortisol load and therefore keep a healthy brain structure, including your impulse control.

Have each family member, either together or individually, incorporate my stress reduction exercise at least once daily.

Ideas to help you get started with progressive relaxation techniques:

  • Make sure you practice this exercise in a quiet room, with no distractions.
  • Schedule the time for this exercise into your day as you would any other commitment. The start of the day and as you are ending your day are the best times.
  • Set a timer so you are not distracted by wondering if your 20 minutes are up.
  • Find a room where you have plenty of space to lie down where you do not feel cramped by nearby objects.
  • What you resist, persists: therefore, when you have distracting thoughts, invite them into your meditation. Don't fight them.

Tip #3: Make finding time for free play a priority

In our busy world, over-scheduling and over-stimulating our children may be hindering their intelligence rather than helping them. Many of the world's greatest discoveries occurred during relaxed states. Albert Einstein came up with the theory of relativity when daydreaming while doing repetitive work at a patent office. James Watson claims his sudden insight during a good night's sleep lead to the discovery of the double-helix, our DNA. Isaac Newton is said to have come up with his theory of gravity after seeing an apple fall from a tree while lounging in his mother's garden.

Our natural state is peaceful, and by calming our minds, we distract ourselves from our distractions. This helps us organize our environment to allow creativity to blossom. Therefore, we need to give children time to access their natural states and find their gifts. While children are young, parents should provide free play opportunities in safe, print- and material-rich environments that foster elements of observation, manipulation, communication, and creativity. By age four, a child's brain is 50% developed; by the teenage years, 80% of the brain is developed. Instead of constantly making sure your child is "doing something productive," give them time to be themselves... and watch the amazing ways they will use that time.

At least once each day, set aside free play time for your children.

Ideas for incorporating free play into your family life:

  • With babies and toddlers, give them a safe space that is confined and secure. Let them explore the playroom, for instance, while you are nearby reading a book.
  • Remember: safety first. Before giving babies, toddlers and young children free play time, be sure to remove potentially dangerous items such as hot tea and coffee, knives and other sharp objects from the area.
  • With tweens and teens, allow them an allotted amount of time outside of homework, after-school activities and hanging out with friends -- 30 minutes or one hour -- where electronics are off and you are nearby. Ensure they have plenty of tools such as paper, pens, pencils, journals, books, paint supplies, gardening, cooking supplies, arts and crafts and other non-electronic activities that they can choose from.

You can choose to start with one of these practices at a time, starting with one that you feel best works with your family structure and schedule. Once your family has incorporated one or more of these practices regularly into family routine, take note of any differences: Is your child able to focus more? Does your child seem more relaxed and happy? Is your child able to create some amazing artwork or come to any fantastic discoveries during free play?

The important thing is to remember to put the focus back on your family and prioritize time together. For more parental involvement ideas, download my free Seven Simple Solutions parenting tips workbook.

In the next, final installment of this parental involvement blog series, I'll discuss why it really does take a family to raise a child, not a village.