Just in Time for School–Leah Farish

The new Grandees website is arriving online in time for school.  Teachers and staff take a sharp breath in; parents exhale after a summer with kids at home, and off we go.

Not so fast.  It just might be time not to “wind up”  the academic throwing arm so much as to encourage kids to relax.  When people (kids are people, remember) slow down and breathe easily, they can become more ready to learn.  The Greek word “schole” means both leisure and study–the two go together.

Rather than reactive attention–the kind of attention given to video games, phone doodads, and YouTube–, the attention needed for school is focused attention: analytical, flexible, curious, more able to delay gratification.  The little payoffs and screen changes given every few seconds in video games overstimulate children and make them harder to engage if a task does not reward them immediately.  So says Dr. Dmitri Christakis, a pediatrician at University of Washington School of Medicine. (1)  A steady diet of video stimulation all summer may make it hard for kids to focus once they take their seats in the classroom.

Younger children may not know what it means to “Relax” on command, but a gentle massage of a child’s forehead and scalp or encouragement to “Breathe like this” can help. Teens respond well to a casual tone of voice and to adults who are emotionally steady themselves.  Providing such things can help anxious adults too.

In children, it can be hard to distinguish a healthy excitement over a new school year from the dis-stress of anxiety.  According to child development specialist Dr. Karen DeBord, elementary-age kids who are unduly stressed may : whine, be aggressive, question authority, have nightmares, and lose concentration.  ”Reactions to stress may include withdrawal, feelings of being unloved, being distrustful, not attending to school or friendships, and having difficulty naming their feelings. Under stress, they may worry about the future, complain of head or stomachaches, have trouble sleeping, have a loss of appetite, or need to urinate frequently.”(2)

So let’s find ways to dial our students down.  Allowing an extra ten minutes more to get to school this year than last, using peaceful voices around the house, and limiting media usage at this crucial time can give our youngsters a strong first day of school and set a course for good habits all year.

(1) Sheryl Ubelacker, “Excess TV, gaming tied to poor attention in kids,” The Globe and Mail, Canadian Press, July 6, 2010

(2) “Helping Children Cope with Stress,” National Network for Child Care/ National Extension Service, Children Youth and Family Education Research Network, 1996. Use for educational purposes only.