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.
In last week’s post I wrote about the potential dangers to children’s developing brains of air pollution and listed the towns in South Africa with the highest levels of measured pollution.
Most of us lack the freedom to live and work according to our choice. More often we find ourselves in towns and cities because of the nature of our work and the availability of jobs. If we are forced to stay in an area said to be heavily air polluted, are there ways of reducing the risk that pollution carries to our family’s health – especially our vulnerable children?
Here are some suggestions:
First and foremost, you need to become an activist in supporting efforts to improve our air quality because you won’t be able to change the situation by yourself.
Improving air quality means replacing fossil fuel combustion (i.e. burning fuel, such as coal, wood and so on) with cleaner sources of energy, including solar and wind. Support organisations fighting for this. On a note closer to home, be careful of fires (heating or braai) that are used in areas not well ventilated. Our increasing use of indoor braai rooms may add to the poor quality of air in our homes.
Green areas, such as parks and trees within towns and cities can improve air quality, so encourage your local municipality to develop green belts and recreation spots. Wherever possible, plant trees and shrubs in your own garden. Our easy-growing plant, the ‘Spekboom’ is a natural supplier of oxygen – every garden should have a few!
Encourage recycling. Waste that is burned in the proximity of living areas releases toxic chemicals that can reach children’s lungs. Although lead in the air has been reduced since its removal from petrol, if car and cell phone batteries are burned, lead can be released into the air. Use the battery disposal units set up in some of our supermarkets.
Try to reduce children’s exposure to air pollution. Wherever possible, avoid travelling at times where roads are congested. If your home or child’s school is in an area of severe pollution, strenuous activity outdoors should be avoided. In spite of the importance of sport and play, exercise in harmful air should be minimal – especially if your child has a medical condition such as asthma or another respiratory ailment. Make sure your child’s school or daycare centre has a well-greened play area with trees and plants.
The quality of air inside school buildings and other community structures can be improved by ventilation and air filtration systems. Mention this at your school and help work towards implementation of such methods.
Other indoor air pollutants should be avoided too. The bad effects of second-hand cigarette smoke on children’s health is well-documented so homes and cars should be smoke-free zones. Other common sources of potentially harmful inhalants include certain cleaning materials. Use products that are manufactured to be harmless to our bodies and brains.
Lastly, but by no means the least important, strive to maintain optimal levels of health in your children. Healthy diets and lifestyles build resistant immune systems and bodies that can help reduce the overall impact of air pollution. The healthier a child is, the less likely that he or she will develop health complications due to the exposure to air pollution. This is partly why Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) continually encourages healthy eating patterns and other tried and tested ways of living that contribute to optimal brain development and function.