Children and Stress Management Is an Increasing Concern
Children and stress management is a matter of increasing concern in our culture. School stress can affect learning because children lose focus when they are under stress. During times of stress, the brain goes into "survival mode" and is not able to acquire or process new information. Very little learning can take place, and stress reduction techniques in classrooms may help.
Much of the stress in schools is caused by overly lit classrooms, according to Dr. Fritz Mengert of Neuro Cognitive Application Protocols. Overhead fluorescent lights flicker which in addition to being a distraction, he says, may cause a small percentage of the population to have tiny brain seizures.
Switching to natural light and/or indirect lighting such as that which is provided by lamps is his recommendation. Lamps provide a softer, more homelike
too, which makes the brain feel safe, an important component of children and stress management.
Overhead fluorescent lights can deplete the amount of serotonin in the brain, and low levels of serotonin can hinder brain function. Serotonin levels are highest in all of our brains in the mornings after we have been in darkness all night. This level drops throughout the day as we are in the light. Bright overhead lights - especially the fluorescent ones - deplete the serotonin quickly so that levels are low in the afternoons. The matter of children and stress management becomes even more critical when these levels drop.
When this happens, boys become more aggressive and girls become more withdrawn. Sound familiar? Think about the afternoons in our classrooms. Some guy starts tapping his pencil, and what do we just naturally do? Ask him to stop, right? How dare he be a distraction?
What I learned from Dr. Mengert is that this is the body's way of building serotonin back up! So the boy is really trying to do his teacher a favor by getting some serotonin into his brain!
Getting kids out of their seats to do
and other rhythmic activities can help manage their stress. Please do share your favorites by clicking "energizers" and scrolling to the bottom of the page!
Distractions in the classroom can raise the level of stress for learners so identifying and eliminating as many as possible creates an environment which better supports learning. If you are concerned about children and stress management, this is an easy place to start.
Decorations on the walls that are not used for instruction are a huge distraction and removing them can calm the room down immediately. A certain amount of blank wall space is needed by the brains of your children, and the only thing I put on my walls now are
When I first began trying to manage the stress caused by distractions, the hardest thing for me to do was to retrain myself not to correct behavior or redirect students from across the room. This brings stress to every single student in the room (partly because they assume that they could be next!)so this must be avoided.
I learned to stop myself, go to the student, and quietly deliver my message without "downshifting" and stressing out the others in the room. I also developed nonverbal cues with my students so that when they looked up I was able to redirect them without speaking. (Example: pantomiming writing on an imaginary notebook in front of me.) It worked like a charm and soon became a natural part of my plan for stress management in my classroom.
Playing Baroque music
in the background (except during direct instruction) masks sounds outside the classroom nicely in addition to supporting
Once you and your students grow accustomed to it, you will wonder how you ever did without it! Remember to play it softly, though - if you notice the music, it is too loud!
Sense of Family
Children in primary schools must learn to deal with their emotions appropriately. Even if they have supportive families at home, they still need guidance in dealing with anger, frustration, and sadness at school. Stress reduction in the classroom continues to be critically important in middle school where peer pressure increases.
Creating a sense of family in the classroom is an important technique for stress management at school. Teaching my children to work out problems like a family and work together has been very successful for me, and they quote our motto often: "Be a problem solver, not a problem maker." More than once, students have walked away from fights while quoting it! (I know - I could hardly believe it either, but other students reported this to me on a number of occasions!)
is all about children working together, and the idea of helping one another may be extended to test taking by allowing children to use
when taking unit tests.
As teachers, we all feel pushed for time, don't we? There just aren't enough hours in the school day to fit everything in so we feel the need to rush, rush, rush. To reduce stress in my classroom, I had to slow things down - starting with myself!
Some students need more time to think and process information than others, and I learned to wait longer for them to answer questions.
Just because a student does not answer immediately does not mean that she doesn't know the answer!
There are so many things in a child's life that are out of his control. So giving him choices is an important part of managing children's stress in your classroom because he feels that at least he is in control of something in his life.
I really had to look carefully for ways to do this when I got serious about addressing the issue of children and stress management in my classroom. The more I looked, though, the more opportunities for choice I found. I used dry erase boards extensively in middle school Prealgebra and Algebra I (everybody loves dry erase boards!) and giving them opportunities to draw whatever they liked at the first of class gave them some autonomy.
With second graders, I often asked which activity they would like to do next so sometimes it is the order of the activities which they are able to control. I am convinced that it is the little things that make the difference in efforts to address the problem of children and stress management.
A kindergarten teacher I know sets aside Fridays as "Free Choice" day. She allows her students to go to any center they wish on that day, and they really do respond to it.
Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall
Middle school students put a lot of stress on themselves about their appearance. Our society is in many ways responsible that our kids - especially our girls - feel this way about themselves, and I notice that the pressure to be thin and beautiful is being felt at a younger age than ever before. It is one of the reasons we are even talking about children and stress management!
Placing a full length mirror in my middle school classroom was one of the best things I ever did to help lower their anxiety. Instead of sitting in my classroom all period wondering what their hair looked like, students could get up, look in the mirror, then stop worrying about it and be free to enter into the learning.
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