Stress plays a bigger role that we know in all of our lives… Including our children. There are three tell tale signs that a person is stressed.
• You have a measurable physiological response
• You will do everything to avoid the situation
• You will feel out of control
Stress has always been a part of the human experience and a certain amount of stress is good. Good stress can make you more productive, stronger, more alert, and a more creative problem solver. In our evolutionary history we needed stress to escape a cheetah’s sharp teeth. In order to not be eaten, we could quickly and creatively make a weapon, aim it accurately at just the right time. Today, adults and children experience a very different kind of stress…sustained stress that doesn’t last but a few minutes but for days, weeks, even months. This kind of stress (chronic stress) does a number on our bodies and brain.
• Too much adrenaline scars up the inside of our blood vessels which leads to plaque
•It weakens our immune system
•It harms learning
• Children who are stressed have a difficult time doing math
• Children who are stressed have a difficult time processing language
• Children who are stressed have a hard time following directions
• Children who are stressed have a hard time concentrating
• Children who are stressed have a hard time getting along with others
• Children who are stressed suffer from deep depression
Stress hormones or glucocorticoids (cortisol is just one of these nasty molecules) are the villains that get into our heads, literally. The hippocampus in the brain is keenly involved in learning. Glucocorticoids disconnect the neural networks so we can’t remember. We can’t process what we hear. We can’t reason quantitatively. We can’t think fluidly.
There are things we can do to help our children (and ourselves) avoid stress. Each of us has a tipping point; a point at which stress becomes toxic. Children react to stressful situations at home. As a family, take time to decompress together. Turn off the electronics. Sit down to have a meal together. Read a book. Play board games. Do chores together as a family. Welcome children to contribute to keeping the household running smoothly. Don’t feel like you have to keep your children entertained every minute of the day. Go outside, take a walk, play outdoors.
At school, emphasizing the process of learning rather than the end result and embracing mistakes as the way we learn allows children to luxuriate in learning new things. Give them ample time to move. Children have to move. They are children. Nature made moving a crucial component in the brain’s development. Allow a period of rest in the afternoon. Thirty minutes of quiet time does wonders for children and adults alike. Recognize that children learn best at different times of the day. Some work best in the morning, some in the afternoon. Allowing them to choose when to do their most challenging work will get the best results and reduce stress. Get off of the test roller coaster. Somehow humanities greatest achievements came without weekly quizzes, tests or grades.