Lately I've been worrying about my summer job. I don't know for sure if I will be teaching college courses this summer, nor do I know if I want to commit to a full time anything during the summer. Every other summer has consisted of summer school program with kids that ended at the beginning of July, then flying out to visit family for the rest of the summer. So this year is different, for sure.
Stress brings on a variety of different reactions, everything from a faster heart rate and higher blood pressure to emotional issues. It's not unusual for adults to settle down after a stressful day in front of the television with a pint of Ben & Jerry's. Other adults let it out with healthier outlets such as exercise or volunteerism. These are the routes that we always hope our children will choose one day, and it's possible they will. With a lot of great modeling and appropriate stress management education, kids may very well grow into well-balanced adults.
Most adults don't stop to consider the amount of stress their children are under. I am actually one of those who does consider stress and its effects on my children, trying to find an appropriate balance for my kids. Earlier this year, our daughter was enrolled in an after-school program that had sounded fantastic--it taught leadership skills, provided extra tutoring, and, we were told, the children participated in special activities such as bowling, movies, and pizza parties on days out of school. The program ran from 3:00 until 5:45 twice a week. Our daughter is very gregarious and enjoys this type of thing, and so we signed her up, having great confidence that it would be a terrific opportunity for her.
By the end of the semester, our daughter had fallen behind in her homework. In addition, we were seeing her arrive at home later and later in the evening. Because of budget cuts, one bus provides transportation for many extra school activities all around the city. It was becoming common for my eleven-year old to arrive home at 7:30, making for a twelve-hour day twice a week for her. She wasn't thrilled with the idea of quitting something she enjoyed, but understood the decision. She still stays after school some days for tutoring, and she stays late on Wednesdays for a special chorus she's a member of. But overall, she's home earlier, has more time to complete homework, and her stress level is more manageable.
Stress can be caused by more than just a busy schedule. Divorce, moving, fights with friends, changes in schedule, and school expectations can cause stress in children. More frequently than ever, we see noticeable stress behaviors in very young children. Young children may have trouble sleeping or sleep too much; they may have frequent accidents; they may pick fights or even show hyperactive behavior as a result of too much stress.
I am a firm believer in kids having an opportunity to be kids. Everyone needs some unstructured time, and this is especially true for children. A couple hours a day, every kid should have the opportunity to play freely. Hanging out with friends, riding bikes, skating on skateboards all are ways that kids LEARN to de-stress as well as learn how to master skills and enjoy life. One of the questions I ask myself about my children's schedules is, does it allow for some unstructured play? If not, then we go back to the drawing board and figure out how to make that happen. It's as necessary for their development, in my opinion, as school or any extracurricular activity that they could take, and my job as a mother is to make sure they get it.
Thanks for reading! Pass it on and feel free to leave comments--do you provide free time, or are the other things you feel are more important?