Stress is an inevitable part of our modern life and it is a myth that children are immune or in some way protected from stress.
When adults are stressed, they turn to others for comfort, attend stress management seminars or simply try to work it off at the gym. When children are stressed, they have fewer avenues they can turn to for relief and help. Sometimes their cries for help are misunderstood or ignored, but stressed children always need the help of adults who can help them cope.
The word ‘stress’ is from the Latin ‘stringere’ which means ‘to draw tightly or bind.’ In the physical sciences, the term is used to define a physical force which can modify the form of a system. For example, a stick may bend when force is applied to it. Stressors in human life are psychological and social forces in the form of events or situations that exert a distorting effect on a person’s equilibrium.
Defined broadly, stress is an adverse event that causes a response from an individual. In childhood, these events include:
- Parental divorce
- Poor parent-child relationship
- Poor teacher-child relationship
- Frequent change of teachers
- Homework overload
- Lack of care and loving discipline
- Death in the family
- A new baby in the family
- Failing a test
- Struggling at school; having learning difficulties
- Having to move from one classroom to the next during the school day
- A birthday party
- High expectations from family or school
- Bullying and teasing
- Rejection from the peer group
- Intense competition with classmates
The physiological reaction to stress is known as the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response. This helps us survive in the face of an immediate threat to our safety. But children find it difficult to fight or flee the difficulties they face. They can’t recognise that they are under stress so they send out distress signals, including:
- Confused behaviour, associated with loss of memory or lack of focus
- Freezing – becoming quiet and withdraw
- Thoughts of suicide
Stress related physical problems appear, such as headaches, tummy aches, asthma, forgetfulness, temper tantrums, fatigue, tearfulness, fearfulness, sleep difficulties and many others. Continued stress impairs the immune system’s functioning so children’s immunity to disease and illnesses drops. They pick up infections easily and become continually tired and lethargic, despite plenty of rest.
How can stressed children be helped?
- Recognise distress signals children send out
- Realise distress signals can be misinterpreted and avoid labelling children wrongly
- Remove the source of stress from children if possible
- Be available to speak to the child about the stressor(s) and allow plenty of opportunity for the child to express fears, disquiets, anger
- Reassure children that they are not naughty or stupid or bad to feel as they do
- Help children re-learn or acquire new coping skills
- Make sure the parent-child relationship is as positive as possible
- Try to strengthen the teacher-child relationship
- Help the child cultivate friendships in and out of school
- Make sure the child has the chance to relax after school and have fun
- Seek professional help if no improvement is seen
This article was sourced from the book ‘Help your child to cope’, written by Dr Cai Yiming and Dr Daniel Fung.
You will all have heard of people who are famous for their ability to play chess very well. One of these is Garry Kasparov. He is a Russian, a former chess grandmaster and a world chess champion who earned the rating of world Number 1 at the age of 20 years. Many consider him to be the greatest chess player of all time. He is also a writer and political activist.
Most of us will be impressed by this achievement and we will almost automatically assume that such ability at a challenging game takes really high intelligence. Do you think that chess masters must have very high IQ’s?
In his introduction to a presentation of the importance of teaching learning strategies to young learners, Albert Ziegler, a prominent researcher in the education field, posed this question to his audience. The answer was that they don’t all score high on intelligence tests. Research found that the average IQ score of a large group of international chess players was 95, placing them in a very average range.
So what does this seeming contradiction tell us?
Kasparov provides an answer. Although his IQ is 122 and much higher than the average of the chess players, this score still doesn’t place him in the highest category of intelligence. In addition, he showed limited ability to produce creative ideas. He and a group of High School learners were asked to quickly list as many unusual uses for a brick. Kasparov blanked out and could produce only 3 – far fewer than the group of kids
But when asked to memorise a list of 29 words from different languages (none of them familiar to Kasparov) in a veryshort time, he managed to correctly recall the meanings of 27½. This was a mind-blowing result and was due to his knowing strategies of memorization.
The lesson here is that knowing how to learn and having strategies to help master various learning tasks is a better prediction of success than IQ.
In the following post, I’ll be sharing some more information about learning strategies – which learners need to be taught in order to succeed in school.
Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) practitioners have tried hard over the years to encourage schools to introduce more movement into classrooms. We understand the terrible pressure put on teachers and learners by curriculum demands, so have worked with pre-school teachers, believing that they have more classroom time to devote to all-important movement. Imagine our disappointment when we heard from one school that had followed our movement programme with their Grade R learners for some years – with noted success – that they were obliged to stop the programme. The reason was that they now have to use that time to teach the preschoolers how to read.
This is doubly sad because not only are those children missing out on the chance to ‘catch up’ on any possible areas of delayed brain development, they are also missing out on vital time spent moving. There is much written these days about the value of movement and the positive impact that physical activity has on academic learning. With this knowledge, there should be no doubt that introducing movement into classrooms is worthwhile.
To our knowledge, many teachers are trying hard to do this, so I thought some information about the latest research might help justify their efforts. Also, some information about different types of movement might be helpful to get maximum benefit in the shortest possible time. Before discussing the research into different physical movement strategies, this article will briefly discuss ‘mindful movement’ versus ‘non-mindful movement’.
Mindful movement (also called ‘purposeful movement’) is referred to when physical activities are integrated directly with learning goals. For example, when children form the letters of the alphabet with their bodies, or illustrate the orbits of the planets by walking around a central sun. The quality of the movement is less important than the fact that learners are focusing on academic content. Movement is used here as a tool for reaching teaching goals.
Non-mindful movement is physical activity that is unrelated to academics. Examples would be running on the spot, running around the playground before a lesson, sitting on a wobbly cushion, pushing legs against a length of elastic tied around the chair legs, and so on.
In other words, mindful movement uses movement activities to teach and learn directly; non-mindful movement does not.
Generally, research shows that both types of movement can benefit learning. Teachers (and school administrators) may fear that movement takes time away from teaching and so will interfere with academic performance. The evidence gathered in recent years indicates that these fears are groundless. Learners benefit in more ways than one and a responsive brain results in more efficient learning.
To help teachers understand more about the value of movement for learning, the next few posts will share some of these research studies.
Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) tries to help children reach their potential by addressing all the possible barriers to learning. Visit our website www.ilt.co.za to learn more about our approach, find a practitioner near you to help and also see what courses we offer for teachers to better understand brain development, function and learning. Our courses are accredited with SACE (for CPTD points) and ETDP-SETA (for credits towards further qualifications in Special Needs Education).
You can write to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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