Emily Parnell — Why do we tackle problems at their most severe?

06/04/2013 5:27 PM

06/04/2013 5:29 PM

You know how it is when you blow up a balloon so full, it’s just about to pop? Its shiny surface stretches thin and transparent, barely keeping itself together, and the slight brush of a sharp object would be enough to burst it, reducing it to a scrap of useless rubber. But if instead of tying it off, you let it go, it swoops and loops and rockets through the air in an ecstatic display of silliness.

This is what has happened to my son since summer break started. The pressures of the school year released, he’s been wildly zipping to and fro, making all kinds of unintelligible noises, with an enormous grin plastered across his face. He’s a veritable maniac. And a happy one, at that.

I knew he was stressed out about school. It’s hard, these days, even in third grade. Academic expectations are high, the social food chain is as brutal as it’s ever been, and on top of that, he’s not interested in things that don’t interest him. Go figure.

I didn’t realize just how much pressure he must have felt until I saw the dramatic difference in his mood. When in school, he seemed, well, taut… stretched thin… about to burst with the smallest provoking. Just like the balloon.

But now his smile is huge, an eclectic mix of oversized adult teeth, undersized baby teeth and missing teeth, topped by rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes, bright with excitement. He sings and dances when nobody’s watching, and he laughs and talks incessantly. Although I sometimes wish for earplugs, it’s a complete joy to see him like this. You know, acting like a happy kid.

And this makes me wonder… why isn’t he the same happy kid during school? And more importantly… what can I do to help him


this happy kid during school? I think that’s the real issue. Because school’s not going to get any easier. Social problems only become more difficult. Pressures and responsibilities build as we grow older.

I’ve looked into stress relievers for kids. I think, maybe, the beginning of summer is the time to start the stress release. Right now when he’s so relaxed that he’s malleable. He’s not worried about anything — this seems like the perfect time to teach him a good coping skill or two.

I’ve always theorized that parents sometimes tackle problems when they’re at their most severe. We try to teach our babies to sleep through the night when they’re waking up every 10 minutes, or force more vegetables when our kids are in a phase where everything tastes funny. Sometimes, I supposed, we have to do it that way. But I prefer to tackle an issue when it’s in a lull. Like now. Teach him to manage stress when he’s not stressed, so that when things get tougher, his skin will be thicker, and he’ll have effective stress management skill in place.

It’s time for me to roll up my sleeves and do some research and figure out some activities that will work for us now, but also when days are jam-packed with school and homework. Hopefully by the time fall rolls around, we’ll be ready to face the challenge with a big, silly grin.

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