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.

Lower lighting

Much of the stress in schools is caused by overly lit classrooms. 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 environment, 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When this happens, boys become more aggressive and girls become more withdrawn.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?

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 energizers 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!

Limited Distractions

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 word walls.

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 memory. 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!)

Cooperative Learning is all about children working together, and the idea of helping one another may be extended to test taking by allowing children to use Buddy Bucks when taking unit tests.

Wait Time

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.

 A mirror in the classroom can help lower stress for middle school students.

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Pet Therapy

Let me say first of all that using an animal in the classroom for stress management is not for everyone. It is a huge responsibility and not one to be taken lightly. That being said, it is one of the techniques I used in my classroom in Georgia. Having a background in showing and training dogs, I researched to find a suitable breed and learned about the Tibetan Spaniel, a rare breed of dog and the forerunner of the Pekinese.

These wonderful little dogs were developed high in the mountains of Tibet to be silent companions to monks during long periods of prayer and meditation. This was exactly the job I wanted the dog to do, and the dogs are hypoallergenic and have no dander. (It is the dander to which people are allergic.)

It was the perfect breed for me so I found a breeder in Virginia and drove there from Georgia during spring holidays where I met the dog whom my children would name "Richmond" since the capital of Virginia is Richmond. The next year the breeder met me in North Carolina with another one to help Richmond in his work.

What did my children name him? You guessed it - Raleigh, which is the capital of North Carolina.

I don't have room for all the stories I have about the miraculous work of these two animals. Someday I will write those experiences in a book which I will call "Teacher's Pet."

In the meantime, here are pictures of them for you to enjoy. Richmond eventually turned the work over to Raleigh who went to school with me every day for 5 1/2 years. I still miss him.

Rest in peace, sweet boys. You done good.

Animals in the classroom

Raleigh and Richmond

Classroom therapy dog


Therapy dog in classroom