Probably one of the greatest, invisible factors affecting anyone’s health at any given time is stress. I know this not only from my massage and hypnosis practice but from my own life as well. I know when I allow my emotional imagination to get out of control or I allow myself to wallow in some doldrums or another, I tend to get ill.
Think about a time when you were sick or injured and how badly you felt. Did you watch television, read a book? When you became engaged in conversation with a friend did you even notice how disconnected to the pain you were? Stress influences not only our health but also psychological processes as well such as memory function and ability to reason. Stress happens at every age.
We often think kids don’t have anything to worry about. Granted, we here in Cambria are immune to most of the crime and violence that plagues other areas of the state — the world. But, it’s all relative. Over half of our student population is on free or reduced lunch plans. Many parents work two jobs to get by.
Conversely, there are those students/families who are so driven, so overscheduled that there is barely time to breathe. The expectations are so high (yes, we need to always hold our youth to high expectations; high, not unreasonable) it can be breathtaking. We sometimes assume that just because we, as adults, are able to juggle six things at once, so should our children. After all, they’re young, they’ve got energy, and they don’t have to pay taxes!
This morning I read in Leadership Magazine (Sept./Oct. 2012) about the Visitacion Middle School in San Francisco. Low attendance, violence, low performance, high teacher turnover, no amount of community supported after school programs, peer support or counseling seemed to have much effect on the climate there. Until the principal examined the underlying cause of these issues— stress. Family life, gang life, economic strife— all these out-of-school situations have a direct relation to a child’s school experience.
They enacted a “Quiet Time” program. Using a local nonprofit organization to teach Transcendental Meditation, the school scheduled two 15-minute quiet times each day. On cue (a bell), all students became quiet, gathering themselves together, getting centered to go through their day. The results were impressive.
Multi-day suspensions went down 43 percent. Star Test scores showed marked improvement especially in the below basic and far below basic groups. Attendance rate increased over four years to 98.3 percent. Even teachers felt the change; teacher absenteeism went down 30 percent.
I’m not suggesting we have to instate Quiet Time in our school program. I do encourage parents as well as staff to take the “whole” child into consideration. I know our teachers and support staff are generally pretty good about picking up on moods, hunger and other factors that may influence a student’s day. However, we as parents need to remember what constitutes stress in your child’s life. Yes, we need to continue to have high expectations of our kids, encourage them to develop their independence —but, check in with them, listen to them, give them down time to regroup. Can’t we all use that some times?