How can stress affect children and what can schools do to combat this?
You may not think that children experience much stress; what do they have to stress about, anyway? They don’t have to pay bills, worry about money, work and many of the everyday stresses that comes with being an adult. However, a child’s typical school day can potentially involve many stressful moments, these could be:
- Separation anxiety when going to school
- Having limited ‘me’ time due to homework
- Anxiety over not feeling ‘smart enough’ or struggling with the work
- Being bullied
- Extracurricular activities creating pressure
- Difficulties handling busy/loud social situations
Children can also sense stress, so if you’re stressed around your children, chances are they’re mimicking your emotions. They also have easier access to the internet, with children as young as 10 creating social media accounts. This exposes them to cyberbullying, photoshopped images creating body image issues and violent images; all of which creates anxiety leading to stress.
How does stress affect development?
If a child feels stressed over a prolonged period of time, it can lead to serious problems. Stress results in the elevation of cortisol levels in the brain, the longer a child feels stress, the longer the cortisol levels in the brain stay elevated.
For a developing brain, a persistent high level of cortisol can have a negative impact on the body as well as the brain, leading to digestive issues and a lowered immunity, as well as potential attention, memory and emotional issues.
A continuous exposure to stress can cause a child to struggle with learning in school and can lead to a direct impact on their mental development, causing lethargy, nightmares and even depression. Stress can lead to weight gain or loss, both of which come with their own problems.
How can schools combat stress in children?
It’s important to have open conversations with teaching staff to assess their stress levels – after all, how can they help students if they’re feeling overwhelmed by stress themselves? It’s also important to recognise that school shouldn’t be a stressful place for students – whilst some positive stress can increase productivity; overwhelming feelings of stress can cause the opposite.
A commitment to wellbeing
Creating a positive, safe environment can help them leave their stress at the door. Teachers can implement an environment that allows students to talk freely about their worries; just being kind to students can allow them to open up and get the help they need. They can allow students to have a few minutes at the beginning of each lesson to take a breath, collect themselves and prepare for the lesson ahead.
Implementing a wellness program, where students are given the opportunity to discuss the stress they feel and given the tools to cope with it can help them inside and outside of school. These tools can include stress management tips such as:
- Taking calming breaths
- Getting enough sleep
- Using positive thinking and affirmations
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
Introducing a mental health awareness session as part of the curriculum can help students recognise that they’re not alone with the way they feel and there are ways to overcome their intrusive thoughts. The session can also point them in the direction of more professional help if they are very overwhelmed by the way they feel. Including this in the curriculum can help curb the number of mental health issues that can be at the root of their stress.
Recruiting and retaining good teachers is vital; it’s important to remember that teachers are your greatest asset. They communicate the most with students, employing teachers that create a positive environment for students can reduce stress, improve focus and productivity. Teachers can implement a ‘thought box’ in their classroom, where students can anonymously submit what they’re most worried about and if there is anything within that particular class that they are worried about. The teacher can then plan a session to highlight and work through the submissions without attention being drawn to the students that submitted them.
How can good procurement support this?
Obtaining high quality goods for your school, such as classroom supplies and nutritious meals, can create a better work environment; lowering stress and increasing productivity. Afterschool activities can also benefit children and support their mental health.
This can be done with the help of frameworks that have added benefits, such as social value included, pre-vetted suppliers and more. Go through a fair tender process and get the best contract that helps not only your school, but the wider community.
You can read more about social value and how it can help your school here.
School should be a positive experience for students, where they can grow, develop and express who they are through learning.