Sunday, November 8, 2015

STRESS

As a school counsellor, I often work with children to help them cope with and problem-solve around issues related to friendships, relationships with parents and siblings, motivation, anxiety, executive functioning and mood. What I've seen, however, is that the common denominator between all of these is that they can be extremely stress-evoking. Stress can exacerbate nearly every "small" hurdle in our lives, from the broken zipper on our backpack, to forgetting our lunch, to scrambling to get to work or school on time. Stress can also be felt when an individual important to us is experiencing it themselves. Countless studies have examined parental stress and its effects on child development, with results being clear: high levels of stress has a negative impact on our kids.

One of the most powerful job duties I (and parents) have is to build our children's toolbox for how to effectively manage all kinds of stress. And while I don't try to necessarily minimise issues that students discuss with me, I almost always attempt to have them evaluate both the size of their problems and whether or not their reactions are an appropriate response. Sometime using a scale such as the one depicted in my office can be very useful in helping children both quantify and qualify their level of stress.


So, when given the chance to talk to our third graders about the effects of exercise on the mind, I jumped at it. Why? Because I was excited to start the conversation around how stress influences us and introduce various "stress busters" that kids can use to combat it. Here is a picture from that lesson taken from the Grade 3 @ Seisen blog. Many thanks to Mr. Lewis for snapping the photo!



According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), symptoms of stress in children include:

  • Irritability or unusual emotionality  
  • Sleep difficulties or nightmares 
  • Inability to concentrate 
  • Drop in grades or other functioning 
  • Toileting or eating concerns
  • Headaches or stomachaches 
  • Unexplained fears or anxiety (that can also take the form of clinging) 
  • Regression to earlier developmental levels 
  • Isolation from family activities or peer relationships 


To prevent stress, parents can ensure their kids are getting enough sleep (at least 10 hours per night, according to the Center for Disease Control), eating healthy meals and snacks and have time to relax or participate in favourite chosen activities. Fostering close, supportive and open relationships is equally as important, in addition to allowing children to learn from their mistakes without harsh criticism and by utilising fair, consistent and positive discipline approaches. Of most importance, perhaps, is making sure your child feels physically and emotionally safe.


Mr. Lewis and Ms. Doyle's students were eager to share some of their personal stressors. Some of the "stress busters" they talked about included exercise, expressing their feelings, discussing problems (as opposed to keeping things bottled up), yoga/meditation, and participating in clubs and activities that are enjoyable. If these strategies are continuously reinforced by parents and teachers, we will be doing our part to minimise the negative effects of stress and continue to build resilience in our children.

For more information on stress, please visit the following websites:


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