Stress and Choice

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a Middle School parent, and she asked, “Is my kid going to be stressed out when she gets to the Upper School?”  I guess my answer would be let’s work together to make sure she learns how to choose and manage a workable schedule so that isn’t the case. Every year the girls hear me say that we want them to stretch and grow, but we don’t want them to stretch so much that life becomes unbalanced.

In our school community I would like to hear the word “stress” a little less and the word “choice” a little more. Today, we began conversations with our Upper School students about choosing from a wonderful list of classes, co-curricular activities, and athletics for their schedules next year. Simply suggesting to a student or a parent that it might not be advisable to do it all can be a difficult pitch from my office. No doubt Harpeth Hall parents have invested a great deal in their daughters’ education. Opportunities abound here and we are very proud of that fact. Similar to the adage about having it all, believing that you can do it all doesn’t mean doing it all at once.

We would probably all agree that the best learning and creative thinking happens somewhere between boredom and anxiety. We could also agree that we want our daughters to pursue their passions. If a student’s bright spot in the day is when she runs on the soccer field at 3:30 in the afternoon, then that is not the activity to remove from her schedule. If she is feeling overwhelmed, she might need to make choices between other things that fill her day.

Obviously we cannot eliminate all stress by simply embracing more selectivity in our classes and co-curricular activities, but we can remind our daughters that they have more control over their anxiety levels than they think they do. Over the course of four years I hope they can learn to take care of themselves. We want them to sleep enough and develop healthy eating habits. We also want them to make unique and appropriate choices as individuals.

One of the most delightful parts of my job is when a student plops down in a chair in my office and says, “Mrs. Hill, there are so many classes I want to take and so many clubs I want to join. I just don’t know what to do first, and I only have three years left.” Now that is the beginning of a beautiful journey in the Upper School with many excellent choices ahead.

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