FROM THE SUPERINTENDENT’S DESK
‘Gimme a Break!’: Kids, Like Adults, Need a Vacation From Stress
How many times, in the midst of routine chores and daily frustrations, have you said, “I need a vacation!”? Adults do need to retreat at times from the stress of everyday life — so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that children, too, need to “get away from it all” occasionally.
I recently spent some time with my nine grandchildren, and our time together resulted in minor interruption of their regular routines. Interestingly, the short interlude turned out to be just what they needed: they all said they were glad not to have their “extra” activities, such as sports and music practice, for a few days. My 14-year-old granddaughter even added that she was relieved not to be on Facebook all day and night. (She told me there are ten different ways of reaching her on her computer — some of which I never knew about!) Children and teens today are bombarded with so much information, so many activities and choices, it can easily get out of control, creating an unhealthy level of stress.
As we know, enjoyable activities can produce stress, just as upsetting or frustrating events can. Stress isn’t all bad; when any kind of out-of-theordinary demand is placed on a person — child or adult — the body responds by releasing chemicals into the bloodstream. This reaction is what enables us to rise to the challenge, whatever it may be. The goal isn’t to eliminate stress altogether, but to recognize in our children those times when stress may have built up to a level that sends out a warning signal: “I need a vacation!”
Depending on age, signs of stress in children and teens can vary widely; in general, though, if you notice negative changes in behavior, difficulties in interactions with others or complaints about feeling sick, these may well be indicators of stress overload. Better than waiting until those signs appear though, is to plan mini-breaks for your child from time to time.
Vacations from stress don’t need to involve travel, and they don’t have to be costly. Giving your son or daughter permission to substitute a routine activity with a more relaxing one can be enough at times. But remember that kids, like adults, may be feeling stressed without realizing it. Sometimes, rather than just giving your “O.K.” for your child to skip soccer practice or a piano lesson, you may need to actually make an executive decision to declare a short hiatus.
You might plan a relaxing evening at home with the family or some other enjoyable (stress-free!) event. Keep in mind that children often experience stress from activities they enjoy. I’m quite certain that my granddaughter, for example, would not have elected to remain off of her computer for a few evenings had we not been together — yet the experience caused her to realize that, despite the pleasure she derives from it, even Facebook can be stressful when engagement is nonstop.
Preventing overload requires a little extra attention and perhaps a bit of creativity, but the benefits for your child are significant. Keep an eye out for those extra activities that may be overburdening, and once in a while, say “bon voyage!” to stress. #