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Monday, July 15, 2019

Kids Get Stressed Too! And the Gift of Travel is the Best Relief

What kinds of things do you see crop up on your kids’ Christmas and birthday wish lists year after year? Toys and games? Clothes and shoes? Games consoles? Bikes or skateboards? Phones, tablets or other electronic devices? Weird novelty items that refuse to go away like slime? In a world of materialism, it’s only natural to expect kids to gravitate towards the kids of desirable material possessions that are marketed en-masse to their age groups. And while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with them wanting these things, nor with their parents’ granting their wishes, let’s not forget that the most valuable gifts we can give our kids tend not to be material possessions. Clothes will be outgrown or go out of fashion. Toys will be grown out of and languish in the attic (or escape and have autonomous adventures). Even the hottest consumer tech becomes passe and replaced with a newer, sexier iteration within months. But experiences and happy memories last a lifetime.

Image by Vernon Swanepoel via Flickr 
That’s why travel, whether domestic or (better still) international will always be the best gift you can give your kids. Not only does travelling to new countries and locales and experiencing new sights, sounds and cultures remind kids what wonder is like in an age where the average 10-year old has seen everything, it gives kids the stress relief and relaxation that they so desperately need.

Because, while it may be difficult for adults to acknowledge...

Kids get stressed too!

When we’re older we have a tendency to view our childhood through decidedly rose-tinted lenses. The fog of time has a tendency to airbrush out the unhappy memories and quotidian traumas of our childhoods like a soft focus lens filters out the wrinkles, blemishes and imperfections on a movie star’s face. 

But the fact is that childhood is stressful, and kids get stressed just like we do. Sure, they don’t have to worry about how the mortgage is going to get paid, whether they’ll be made redundant or whether they’re going to be overlooked for promotion again… But they do need to worry about how to gain mastery of a body that seems to be changing faster than they can keep track of. They might not have marriages to worry about but that doesn’t mean that interpersonal relationships can’t cause them stress. They have exams and tests as well as the ever-constant threat of being rejected or alienated by their peers for something as arbitrary as whether they’re wearing the right shoes

What’s more, because they’re experiencing all of this for the first time, it’s more raw and visceral than perhaps we remember it being. Young minds don’t have the worldliness and perspective that we do, and as such, aren’t as able to cope with formative traumas like playground spats or the heartbreak of young love. 

What’s more, just as in adults...

Stress can be a ticking time bomb!

We all know that stress can have a wide range of ill-effects on human health. It can compromise our immune function, place us under great cardiac stress leading to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. It can place a great strain on the renal system and result in anxiety and depression. It can cause fluctuations in weight and push us into compulsive behaviors.

Stress affects kids’ minds and bodies in pretty much the same ways. It can lead to poor sleep, irrational or aggressive behaviors and poor concentration at home and in the classroom. 

Travel is great stress relief for us… But it’s especially valuable and important for kids

We all need to get away from it all every once in a while and immerse ourselves in new sights, sounds, tastes and cultures. Whether we’re planning a discounted trip to Disneyland with tickets from an authorized seller or a bargain mini-break in Europe, travel is a tonic for all that ails us. 

It gives kids distance and perspective on their problems

Just like us, kids benefit from getting some physical distance from their problems, their school, their friendship groups and the things that sometimes keep them up at night. Spending a little time somewhere far away, living like a local and immersing themselves in a new locale with new people and new sights and sounds is a great way to relieve stress and gain perspective on their worries.

While travelling doesn’t make their (or our) problems go away, it does help us return to them with a renewed sense of perspective so that they don’t seem as scary or insurmountable. 

It gives kids confidence

A lack of confidence can be crippling to a child’s personal, social and academic development. It can prevent them from putting their hand up when they know an answer to a teacher’s question or make new friends. However, when travelling they can leave all their social and personal baggage behind in ways that can be very liberating and empowering. They can make new friends who don’t care about whether they’re in the “in crowd” at school. They can reinvent themselves in this new locale and unshackle themselves from the labels which are all-too easily attached to them in the school environment.

It builds social skills 

Interacting with new people is extremely important in aiding kids’ social development and helping them to become confident, personable adults with outstanding interpersonal and communications skills. Meeting new people and conversing with them (even in different languages) is a great way to build social and listening skills. While they may not feel confident in doing so at first, interacting with new people in unfamiliar locales is a great way to build social confidence. What’s more, these skills will be reinforced when they come home and tell their peers about all the cool stuff they’ve gotten up to on their travels.

It helps kids to engage and focus intellectually

When travelling through new and unfamiliar surroundings, kids don’t have the luxury of immersing themselves in their phone screens. They are put in a situation where it’s necessary to observe and engage with the world around them and focus in ways that they don’t always get to at home. This kind of focus not only helps them to make happy memories that they’ll carry with them wherever they go for life, it could also help them in their studies when they return home. 

It gets them sleeping like babies

Sleep is extremely important, both for mitigating stress and for overall good health. While we’re asleep, our bodies carry out all the routine repairs and maintenance that make for happy and healthy bodies. But because kids are always growing and developing, they need more sleep than we do… And in the digital age there are more distractions than ever to keep them from getting the 8-11 hours they need. As such, many of today’s kids aren’t getting as much sleep as they need.

However, exploring new sights, meeting new people and all the walking that tends to come with a family vacation is a surefire recipe for night after night of restful sleep. 

Because you’re less stressed, they’re less stressed

Finally, as adults, it’s easy to forget that our own stresses can imprint on our kids. When we’re stressed, we risk infecting them with our stress if we’re not very careful. Thus, our money worries can become their money worries. Arguments with our spouse can cause them the stress of believing that they might have to cope with a separation and even seeing us worried or upset can cause them to internalize this and blame themselves. 

However, when you relieve your own stress, you relieve theirs by proxy. Rested and happy parents lead inevitably to rested and happy kids. 

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