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Learning Center Experience
By Dr. Liz Clark, Faculty Member, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
the domain of child and family wellness it is important to consider the
influences of stress on young children. Recognizing the symptoms of stress and
teaching appropriate coping strategies can be protective factors to decrease
childhood stress which can contribute to anxiety and depression.1 Stress reduction is
important for psychological and physical health of children and contributes to
healthier family and other social relationships.
What is Stress?
humans we need stress in our lives to stimulate and motivate us. We experience
stress even before we are born. As children grow, how they interact with their
environment and the kind of feedback children get from these interactions
influence how stress affects them physically, emotionally, and socially. Reactions to stressors can be described as positive, tolerable, or
toxic.2 Stress is perceived in
different ways by different people. When people are stressed, the circuits in
the brain activate hormones and other chemicals throughout the body. Prolonged
exposure to these hormones can impair the immune system and impact learning as
well. When left unchecked, tolerable stress can move into toxic stress.
Stress as Positive
is a fourth grade female who is preparing for a big math test in school. She is
struggling with division and her parents help her by getting out the flash
cards and quizzing her the night before the test. Undula wants to do well
on this test, as math is her favorite subject. The morning of the test, her
heart is beating a little faster and she is feeling thirsty, but she knows she
will do her best because she studied hard. She remembers to take deep breaths
before beginning the test as her mother showed her the night before. Undula
feels in control of this situation and she knows the test will soon be over.
Stress as Tolerable
is 12 years old and his favorite dog, Buster, just died. Buster had been Paul’s
dog since he can remember and he is not only feeling sad, but he now feels like
he doesn’t have any friends either. He is having trouble sleeping since Buster
is no longer in his room and he doesn’t feel like eating anything.
Jonathan, Paul’s friend, comes over and brings his new puppy so the boys can
play together. While Paul is still feeling sad, he decides to play with
Jonathan and the puppy. Paul begins to see life in a more positive way because
he knows Jonathan is his friend and will help him through this sad time.
Stress as Toxic
Paul had chosen to stay in the house and not eat over a long period of time,
the loss of his dog can promote the stress he feels to become toxic and
chronic, having long lasting negative effects on his body, his ability to
learn, and his relationships with family and friends. Paul’s family, teachers,
and friends might see some of the symptoms below.
Identifying Stressor in Children
like adults, interpret stressors differently. As professionals, parents, and
community members, it is important to watch for the warning signs that stress
might be moving toward a toxic level so appropriate interventions can be
implemented. Some key indicators of childhood stress can include:
Helping Children Manage Stress
as adults need coping skills to manage daily stressors, so do children.
Psychology researchers and theorists emphasize the important influence of the
home and school environment where children learn to cope with daily stressors
in either positive or negative ways. Psychologist Albert Bandura’s social
learning theory reinforces that children learn what they live.3 How do you, as an
adult, handles stress in your life? The children around you will emulate your
strategies whether the coping mechanisms are healthy or unhealthy. Healthy
stress management techniques can include:
at home–providing an arena for children to discuss their daily activities helps
them put situations in proportion and gives perspective. In the home
environment, where and when are the times that children and adults can talk
about their day? Some families use the time in the car together to discuss
issues, and others find game night or watching TV together as a time to help
children express their feelings about what is going on. Taking a walk with your
children is an excellent way to provide time to talk. When children know they
have the support of primary caregivers, they are more likely to discuss
from the school–mental health professionals on the school campus can include
school counselors, school psychologists, and social workers, all of whom are
trained to work with children who are experiencing stress. It is important for
children to know whom at school to go to if they are stressed. These
trained professionals can offer group, peer, or individual counseling, and
other programs to help children deal with their stress and feelings before
things escalate. Schools also offer clubs and other activities that can provide
support for children so they develop a balance in their lives that include
activities that are fun for them. In the classroom teachers can incorporate
times when children can talk about issues that affect them such as conflicts on
General Stress Management Techniques
1. G. Draag, G.V. Breukelen, G. Kok, G., and C. Hossman,
"Learn Young, Learn Fair,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, vol. 50, no. 9 (2009): 1185-1195.
2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, “The Effects of Childhood Stress on Health Across the
Lifespan,” accessed November
3. Albert Bandura, Social Foundations of Thought and
Action (New Jersey:
Dr. Elizabeth Smith Clark
Liz Clark has a Bachelor of Science degree in Child Development, and two Master
of Science degrees, one in School Counseling and one in Organizational
Behavior. She earned her PhD in Human development. Dr. Clark has worked in
higher education for over 30 years, as a faculty, consultant, and
administrator. She has taught online for nine years working with undergraduate,
graduate, and doctoral students. Additionally, Dr. Clark has worked with state
and local government and nonprofit agencies in California and around the US.
Clark regularly presents at national conferences, both online and face to face,
on topics that include adult learning, stress, transformative learning, and
internationalizing the curriculum. Most recently she presented at the Caribbean
Regional Conference of Psychology in Nassau, Bahamas. Recent publications
include Transformative Learning in the Online Environment, (2009), and she is
in the process of revising an article for publication on the invitations for
transformative learning in the online environment. Dr. Clark’s research
interests include adult and transformative learning, and how Place influences
our meaning making activities.
Clark is an active member of the International Society of Positive Psychology,
The Society for the Teaching of Psychology, and the Society for Research in
Child Development. She has been with Kaplan University since 2006.
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