Kids and stress

IT'S a little much: One of the latest developments in health care for children is stress management. A hospital in one of the nation's more comfortable suburbs has launched a program for helping children 5 to 12 years old learn to relax and deal with such causes of ``stress'' as peer pressure, the wails of baby siblings, and the excitement of travel. The program includes simple exercises, noncompetitive games, and ``pretend'' sessions in which children, against a background of harp music and birdsongs, are asked to imagine themselves in a carefree setting, in the woods or at the beach.

As a means of showing children how they can stand up to the challenges of daily life, rather than be passive victims, this course may have good intentions. But the wisdom of seeing the bumps and jostlings of everyday life as the cause of some sort of ``syndrome'' is questionable.

Perspective is in order here: Did children isolated on the American frontier feel ``stress'' when they and their families turned under the prairie sod? What of kids caught in war zones, the Beiruts and the Belfasts?

More likely, we suspect, the kids who have the most reason to feel ``stressed'' are the ones least likely to get stress management: those, for instance, in dangerous neighborhoods, whose parents spend anxious afternoons at work, waiting for the reassuring call saying youngsters are safely home from school.

Children should be able to claim a natural right to be brought up in a loving environment and encouraged to face the challenges of adult life as they are ready for them. Stress management is no substitute for correcting the problems that make children feel ``stressed.''

And further up the scale of privilege, parents might do well to cultivate in their children an appreciation for all they have to be grateful for.

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