In today’s education systems ranging from elementary to college level, students are faced with several challenges that affect student performance.
As a matter of fact the most common challenger is rated as the world’s second deadliest killer, STRESS! It can lead to a myriad of problems manifesting in physical, pyschological and/or health problems.
Core curriculum and testing has compounded the problem of stress in schools.
A Long Island teacher caught our attention last week when she stood up before Commisioner King and Regent Tisch and accused them of being complicit in “Common Core child abuse” that is going on in NY schools.
How a child responds to stress and what he/she does with the emotions will have a profound affect on learning.
The American Principles Project (APP), in conjunction with the Pioneer Institute and the Heartland Institute, recently released a video of Dr. Megan Koschnick’s presentation discussing how certain aspects of the Common Core standards are developmentally and age inappropriate. Dr. Koschnick gave her presentation at a September 9, 2013 conference at the University of Notre Dame. APP, Heartland, and Pioneer sponsored the conference, entitled “The Changing Role of Education in America: Consequences of the Common Core.”
“Why do we care if [Common Core standards] are age inappropriate? Well, you can answer that with one word – stress,” said Dr. Megan Koschnick during her presentation. “Instead of thinking about what’s developmentally appropriate for kindergarteners, they are thinking [college] is where we want this kindergartener to end up, so let’s back track down to kindergarten and have kindergarteners work on these skills from an early age. This can cause major stress for the child because they are not prepared for this level of education.”
Dr. Koschnick’s presentation echoes the concerns set forth in the Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative (March 2, 2010) here http://www.edweek.org/media/joint_statement_on_core_standards.pdf and with the concerns set forth in the The Answer Sheet blog in the Washington Post, entitled A Tough Critique of Common Core on Early Childhood Education (January 29, 2013) here http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/01/29/a-tough-critique-of-common-core-on-early-childhood-education/?print=1.
Listen to Dr. Koschnick’s testimony here:
A primer on emotions and learning states:
Were where you when the Twin towers collapsed, or when the Challenger Space Craft exploded? Can you remember receiving your high school diploma, your first kiss? Most probably, you are able to remember these scenes, while you most likely forgot others, like where you were the day after the twin towers had collapsed. What is the reason for this phenomenon? Why do we remember some things, while we forget others? If you take a closer look on the scenes from above, you will notice that they are all emotional experiences. Emotions have a profound impact on what we learn and keep in mind. But what role do emotions exactly play in learning and memory? How do they influence learning and memory?
Poets often locate emotion in the heart, whereas researchers have looked elsewhere for emotions: in the neural circuits underlying the central nervous system. They have found different pathways in the brain for different emotions. So far, knowledge on the neurobiological underpinnings of emotional influence on learning and memory is most elaborate considering fear and stress as well as two special dimensions of emotional information: arousal (how exciting or calming) and valence (how positive or negative). Therefore this primer will focus on the influence of these emotional states on learning and memory. http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/aprimeronemotionsandlearning.htm
A journalist from Stamford Advocate agrees that students are subject to toxic stress when he writes about the dangers of high stakes testing in education. He says “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men:”
Government and business leaders profess that today’s education policies will provide students with “21st-century skills.” If only these leaders had the 19th-century wisdom of Frederick Douglass, they would see that the education “reform” they are imposing has created a school environment that is devastating to our children’s development and mental health.
Our most vulnerable children often suffer “toxic stress:” prolonged activation of the body’s stress response system brought on by chronic traumatic experiences. Toxic stress disrupts the development of the areas of the brain associated with learning and can have lifelong consequences.
The effects of toxic stress must be mitigated, according to the American Association of Pediatrics. To do so, adults must reduce children’s exposure to continuously stressful situations.
It is imperative, therefore, that we make school a supportive environment free of the extreme stress that can harm healthy development. Some stress is productive and promotes growth. However, especially for children living in poverty, creating an unnecessarily stressful environment has long-term damaging effects. http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-State-sanctioned-child-abuse-4986416.php
But what are the causes of stress and anxiety in elementary children and how can elementary teachers and counselors help to reduce their stress and help these children cope more effectively?
Ever increasing demands are being put on our children and we need to look at
how we can help them to better cope with these demands. Children spend 7-8 hours a day
sitting in a classroom, so clearly a teacher or counselor could make a difference in the life
of an overstress child. The research in this paper will help educators look at where they
can begin, and what can be done to help these students.
School stress is an increasing cause of physical and psychological disorders. http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/school-stress-increasing-physical-psychological-disorders-article-1.956487#ixzz2lMAAmF3b
Every year the American Psychological Association takes our emotional temperature with its report titled Stress in America. This year, for the first time, children were also asked about their stress levels. The conclusion? Not only are our kids feeling it, we parents aren’t noticing.
In fact, stress is quite literally making children sick in ways that haven’t registered with their parents. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2012/impact-report.pdf
High and constant stress levels can negatively affect a person’s physical and mental health. In addition to the ongoing mental strain, stress affects people physically — and not everyone is coping well. Americans continue to recognize the impact of stress:
Tweens (30 percent) and teens (42 percent) say they get headaches vs. 13 percent of parents
Tweens (39 percent) and teens (49 percent) cite difficulty sleeping vs. 13 percent of parents
Tweens (27 percent) and teens (39 percent) report eating too much or too little vs. 8 percent of parents
The psychologist Katherine C. Nordal, APA’s executive director for professional practice, warns: “What we’re seeing with stress is in line with existing research about parents’ perception of their kids’ engagement in risky behaviors. Parents often under report drug use, depression and sexual activity in their children. Now it appears the same may be true for stress.”
(By the way, however stressed our children are, we adults are still more so. According to the study: 47 percent of all adults report that they have lain awake at night; 45 percent report irritability or anger; 43 percent report fatigue; 40 percent report lack of interest, motivation or energy; 34 percent report headaches; 34 percent report feeling depressed or sad; 32 percent report feeling as though they could cry; and 27 percent report upset stomach or indigestion as a result of stress. Hmmm, maybe that’s where the kids are learning it from.)
So, to what extent does Common Core, testing and the school environment in general contribute to stress in kids? 500 experts in the field of child development have “grave concerns” about Core and the impact these unrealistic standards will have on students. The conclusion is disturbing. The statement is here: http://www.edweek.org/media/joint_statement_on_core_standards.pdf
No one can dispute it – we are building the Common Core plane while it is still in flight. Teachers Union Prez Karen Lewis hammers this point home in almost every interview that she makes. She can hammer it home one more time here too:
So how much does stress affect children?
We find that just as adults’ workplaces can affect their well-being and stress levels, so also does children’s “work” at school. The classroom environment, particularly a lack of material resources and teachers’ perceived respect and support from colleagues, is associated with children’s learning and emotional problems. Specifically, fewer material resources and lower levels of perceived respect are associated with more problems, as rated by children’s teachers.
First graders whose teachers are exhausted or lack needed materials show more signs of stress, says a study of 10,700 first-grade parents and teachers published recently in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Students in more negative environments, such as classrooms where teachers feel disrespected by their co-workers, also have more behavioral and emotional problems, after controlling for other factors, according to the study, led by Melissa Milkie, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“This may occur because teachers become more harsh or frustrated” when they lack the resources they need to teach properly, the study says. They may be discouraged that they can’t create a better environment. Or “it may also be,” the study says, “that dilapidated surroundings and insufficient materials symbolically devalue children in those spaces.” Researchers chose to focus on first-grade kids because they are at an especially vulnerable stage of development. http://blogs.wsj.com/juggle/2011/05/25/do-school-cuts-lead-to-stressed-students/
There have been numerous reports that students are so frustrated about Core that they are starting to feel psycholigical and physical effects from it. So, what about stress? Anxiety? Worry? Fear? Panic? How do these feelings manifest in children over time?
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is a subjective sense of worry, apprehension, fear and distress. Often it is normal to have these sensations on occasion, and so it is important to distinguish between normal levels of anxiety and unhealthy or pathologic levels of anxiety. The subjective experience of anxiety typically has two components: physical sensations (e.g., headache, nausea, sweating) and the emotions of nervousness and fear. Anxiety disorders, when severe, can affect a child’s thinking, decision-making ability, perceptions of the environment, learning and concentration. It raises blood pressure and heart rate, and can cause a multitude of bodily complaints, such as nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, ulcers, diarrhea, tingling, weakness, and shortness of breath, among other things.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Diagnosis of normal versus abnormal anxiety depends largely upon the degree of distress and its effect on a child’s functioning in life. The degree of abnormality must be gauged within the context of the child’s age and developmental level. The specific anxiety disorder is diagnosed by the pattern and quality of symptoms as follows:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Defined as excessive worry, apprehension, and anxiety occurring most days for a period of 6 months or more that involves concern over a number of activities or events. The person has difficulty controlling the anxiety, which is associated with the following: restlessness, feeling “keyed up” or on edge; being easily fatigued; difficulty concentrating or having the mind go blank; irritability; muscle tension; difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or restless sleep. The anxiety causes significant distress and problems functioning.
Panic Disorder. Panic Disorder is different from Panic Attacks; panic attacks are defined as sudden, discrete episodes of intense fear and/or discomfort accompanied by 4 out of 13 bodily or cognitive symptoms, often manifesting with an intense desire to escape, feeling of doom or dread, and impending danger. These symptoms peak within 10 minutes, and often subside within 20-30 minutes. The 13 symptoms are: heart palpitations or fast heart rate; sweating; trembling or shaking; shortness of breath or smothering; choking sensation; chest discomfort or pain; nausea or abdominal distress; feeling dizzy, lightheaded, faint or unsteady; feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself; fear of losing control or going crazy; fear of dying; numbness or tingling sensations; chills or hot flashes. Panic Disorder consists of recurrent unexpected panic attacks with inter-episode worry about having others; the panic attacks lead to marked changes in behavior related to the attacks. Panic attacks are frequently associated with Agoraphobia (anxiety and avoidance of situations from which escape might be difficult or help might not be available).
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Defined by persistent Obsessions (intrusive, unwanted thoughts, images, ideas or urges) and/or Compulsions (intense uncontrollable repetitive behaviors or mental acts related to the obsessions) that are noted to be unreasonable and excessive. These obsessions and compulsions cause notable distress and impairment and are time consuming (more than one hour a day). The most common obsessions concern dirt and contamination, repeated doubts, need to have things arranged in a specific way, fearful aggressive or murderous impulses, and disturbing sexual imagery. The most frequent compulsions involve repetitive washing of hands or using handkerchief/tissue to touch things; checking drawers, locks, windows, and doors; counting rituals; repeating actions; and requesting reassurance.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. A person is exposed to a traumatic event in which he or she experiences, witnesses, or is confronted by an event or events that involved actual or perceived threat of death or serious bodily injury, and the person’s response involves intense fear, helplessness, or horror. The traumatic event is continually re-experienced in the following ways: recurrent and intrusive distressing remembrances of the event involving images, thoughts, or perceptions; distressing dreams of the event; acting or believing that the traumatic event is recurring; intense anxiety and distress to exposure to situations that resemble the traumatic event; bodily reactivity on exposure situations that resemble the traumatic event. The person avoids situations associated with and remind him of the traumatic event, leading to avoidance of thoughts, feelings or conversations associated with the trauma; activities, places, or people that remind him of the traumatic event; inability to remember details of the event; markedly diminished participation and interest in usual activities; feeling detached and estranged from others; restricted range of emotional expression; sense of a foreshortened future or lifespan; persistent signs of physiologic arousal, such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, irritability or anger outbursts, difficulty concentrating, excessive vigilance, and exaggerated startle response. The above symptoms persist for more than one month and cause significant distress and impairment of functioning.
Acute Stress Disorder. A person is exposed to a traumatic event in which he or she experiences, witnesses, or is confronted by an event or events that involved actual or perceived threat of death or serious bodily injury, and the person’s response involves intense fear, helplessness, or horror. The traumatic event is continually re-experienced in the following ways: recurrent and intrusive distressing remembrances of the event involving images, thoughts, or perceptions; distressing dreams of the event; acting or believing that the traumatic event is recurring; intense anxiety and distress to exposure to situations that resemble the traumatic event; bodily reactivity on exposure situations that resemble the traumatic event. The person avoids situations associated with and remind him of the traumatic event, leading to avoidance of thoughts, feelings or conversations associated with the trauma; activities, places, or people that remind him of the traumatic event; inability to remember details of the event; markedly diminished participation and interest in usual activities; feeling detached and estranged from others; restricted range of emotional expression; sense of a foreshortened future or lifespan; persistent signs of physiologic arousal, such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, irritability or anger outbursts, difficulty concentrating, excessive vigilance, and exaggerated startle response. The above symptoms persist for less than one month and cause significant distress and impairment of functioning.
Social Phobia. Persistent and significant fear of one of more social situations in which a person is exposed to unfamiliar persons or scrutiny by others and feels he or she will behave in a way that will be embarrassing or humiliating. Exposure to the feared social situations almost always causes significant anxiety, even a panic attack despite the fact that the anxiety is seen as excessive and unreasonable. This belief may lead to avoidance of such situations or endurance under extreme distress, leading to marked interference in the person’s functioning and routine.
Specific Phobia. Persistent and significant fear that is recognized as unreasonable and excessive that is triggered by the presence or perception of a specific feared situation or object; exposure to this situation or object immediately provokes an anxiety reaction. The distress, avoidance, and anxious anticipation of the feared situation or object significantly interfere with a person’s normal functioning or routine. Animal Type: animals or insects; Natural Environmental Type: storms, heights, water, etc.; Blood-Injection-Injury Type: getting injections, seeing blood, seeing injuries, watching or having invasive medical procedures; Situational Type: elevators, flying, driving, bridges, escalators, trains, tunnels, closets, etc.
Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety (with or without depressed mood). When the development of emotional and/or behavioral symptoms occur within 3 months in response to an identifiable stressor. These symptoms and behaviors cause marked distress in excess of that which could be expected and results in significant occupational, social, or academic performance. Once the initiating stressor has ceased, the disturbance does not last longer than 6 months.
Anxiety Disorder Due to a General Medical Condition. When the physiologic consequences of a distinct medical condition is judged to be the cause of prominent anxiety symptoms.
Drug-Induced Anxiety Disorder. When the physiologic consequences of the use of a drug or medication is judged to be the cause of prominent anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. When the prominent symptoms of anxiety and avoidance exist but do not fully meet the above diagnostic criteria.” http://www.keepkidshealthy.com/welcome/conditions/Anxiety_Disorders.html
How does the shift to Core Curriculum, testing and stress in school manifest psychologically in students?
Well, there have been reports of increased cutting and self harm amongst students:
Self-harm is the deliberate infliction of damage to your own body, and includes cutting, burning, and other forms of injury. While cutting can look like attempted suicide, it’s not; most people who mutilate themselves do it as a way to regulate mood. People who hurt themselves in this way may be motivated by a need to distract themselves from inner turmoil, or to quickly release anxiety that builds due to an inability to express intense emotions. http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/self-harm
Cutting is a form of protest, in which a child who is experiencing a great deal of stress and/or anxiety and feels powerless to control it resorts to cutting in a sort of coping mechanism:
But it may be the emblematic activity of the psychically shielded and overly fragile. People “do it to feel better. It’s an impulsive act done to regulate mood,” observes Armando Favazza, author of Bodies Under Siege: Self Mutilation in Psychiatry and Culture.
It’s basically a very effective “home remedy” for anxiety, states Chicago psychiatrist Arthur Neilsen, who teaches at Northwestern University. People who deliberately hurt themselves — twice as many women as men — report “it’s like popping a balloon.” There’s an immediate release of tension. It also serves an important defense — distraction — stresses Federman. “In the midst of emotional turmoil, physical pain helps people disconnect from the turmoil.” But the effect is very short-lived.
Self-harm reflects young people’s inability to find something that makes them feel fully alive. Earlier generations sought meaning in movements of social change or intellectual engagement inside and outside the classroom. “But young people are not speaking up or asking questions in the classroom,” reports John Portmann, professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia and author of Bad for Us: The Lure of Self-Harm. It may be that cutting is their form of protest. So constrained and stressed by expectations, so invaded by parental control, they have no room to turn — except against themselves.
There is also a large body of evidence that shows prolonged exposure to stress in children can actually alter and damage brain devlopment:
Considerable evidence from laboratory animal and clinical studies indicate that stressful or traumatic events early in development have long-lasting effects on brain development. In particular, the neural and endocrine systems mediating the response to stress exhibit persistent alterations after adverse childhood events.
Clinically, patients with a history of childhood trauma often struggle with variable symptom complexes including both depression and anxiety. In this article, we review evidence that depression in patients with a history of early life stress (ELS) is biologically and clinically distinct from depression in patients without childhood abuse or neglect.
http://www.currentpsychiatry.com/home/article/early-life-stress-and-depression-childhood-trauma-may-lead-to-neurobiologically-unique-mood-disorders/59793cab1d6cb5144bd2254987815fdf.html and see http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/11/21/prolonged-stress-anxiety-can-alter-part-of-kids-brain/62344.html
According to the Association for the Study of Higher Education.| ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education Washington DC., Student Stress: Effects and Solutions:”
Stress is any situation that evokes negative thoughts and feelings in a person. The same situation is not evocative or stressful for all people, and all people do not experience the same negative thoughts and feelings when stressed. http://www.ericdigests.org/pre-926/stress.htm
Gifted students are not immune from the long term effects of education related stress. Although it may seem that gifted students are lucky to have been bestowed with intellect and talent, such a classification can come with problems of its own. In fact, gifted students can experience high levels of stress to excel at everything they do. http://www.education.com/magazine/article/gifted-students-stress/
Constantly constantly dealing with stress can have a big impact on any given student’s overall academic success in any of the following ways:
1. Stress Affects Your Health
Stress suppresses your immune system, which causes increased susceptibility to bugs and viruses, as well as chronic health problems like headaches and upset stomach. It doesn’t take a Harvard graduate to tell you that if you’re sick, you won’t be able to give 100% to your classes. You may not feel up to studying or you could suffer further from missing classes. If stress is causing physical symptoms, it’s time to consult a professional therapist or stress management consultant.
2. Stress Affects Memory Retention
Students who experience large amounts of stress in their lives often have trouble with memory retention. When you’re stressed, you’re more likely to forget the facts and figures presented in class, and you’ll be less likely to successfully recall this information on tests, labs and on real life applications. Obviously, this is a problem for anyone who wants to do well in college, so try to identify and remedy the causes of stress in your life if you find you’re forgetting more than you retain from your classes.
3. Stress Causes Anxiety
Students who face a tremendous amount of stress may also suffer from anxiety – ranging from mild cases of worry to severe, can’t-leave-the-house cases of nerves. If you’re suffering from anxiety at any level, you’ll find that you can’t focus as well on your school work or on other aspects of student life like extra-curricular activities and personal relationships.
4. Stress Affects Your Judgment
Stress has a definite impact on student judgment. Some students will turn to illegal drugs, prescription medications or binge-drinking in order to escape from the affects of stress. However, turning to drugs and alcohol doesn’t erase the source of your stress – it only adds more. Substance abuse is a serious problem, so if you find yourself pouring a glass or four of wine each night to help you wind down, it’s time to seek professional guidance.
5. Stress Compromises Your Future Outlook
Stress can turn an ambitions, driven student into one who’s nervous and unsure about the future. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you have a test Monday, a paper due on Wednesday and a major lab on Friday – but don’t let the little things affect your drive for success. If you find yourself thinking that there’s no way you’ll get everything done, try breaking large tasks down into smaller pieces and tackle them one bit at a time.
6. Stress Affects Your Self-Esteem
Students who feel overwhelmed by stress may experience feelings of guilt and hopelessness, causing their self-esteem to falter. If you’ve dropped the ball on your academic work, it’s easy to feel like you’ll never get back on track – but don’t think like this! If you get too caught up in your recent stumbles, you’ll lose track of all the positive strides you’ve made in your studies. Remind yourself of all the good things you’ve accomplished so far and find small, concrete ways to get back on the right path.
7. Stress Can Lead to Mental Health Problems
It’s easy to let the competing academic and personal priorities of being a student get the better of you as a student, and it can become difficult to see outside all this stress. As a result, many students – particularly college-aged students – end up dealing with depression or thinking suicidal thoughts. If you’re ever feeling that there’s no way out of the stress you’re under, seek proper care immediately – there are people who understand what you’re going through that can help you work through the stress you’re dealing with.
Assuming you are “That Parent” (http://wp.me/p44iDJ-9n) you must be worried about how your child feels and whether he is stressed per se. Here are some signs of anxiety in children:
Changes in behavior or temperament are common flags that may indicate that your child may be experiencing stress and anxious feelings. Some common signs include:
Complaints of stomach aches or headaches
Sleep problems or difficulty concentrating
Behavioral changes such as moodiness, a short temper or clinginess
Development of a nervous habit, such as nail biting
Refusal to go to school or getting into trouble at school
Common Causes of Childhood Stress are:
The source of anxiety and stress in children can be something external, such as a problem at school, changes in the family, or a conflict with a friend. Anxious feelings can also be caused by a child’s internal feelings and pressures, such as wanting to do well in school or fit in with peers. Some common causes of stress in children include:
Big changes in the family. Major life changes that can lead to stress in children include divorce, a death in the family, moving, or even the birth of a new sibling. These seismic shifts can rock your grade-schooler’s world and turn it upside down. Major life changes can shake your child’s sense of security, and make her feel confused and anxious. For example, a new sibling can make a child feel threatened and jealous. A death in the family, particularly of a grandparent or someone else close to the child, can create confusion and grief, as well as anxiety and stress.
Overly-packed schedules. If your child is constantly running from one activity to another, he may feel stressed, especially if he’s the kind of kid who needs some quiet downtime to himself every once in a while.
Self-inflicted pressure. Many children can experience anxiety about wanting to do well in school. They may want to fit in with other kids and be liked. Self-generated pressure is particularly common in children who are afraid of making mistakes or not being good at something.
Stress caused by something at school. Bullies or cliques can become an issue once kids enter grade-school. Even if a child isn’t being bullied, the pressure to fit in and be popular can be stressful and lead to stress in children. For younger grade-schoolers, separation anxiety can be a common problem.
A terrible news event. News headlines and television news images about natural disasters, terrorism, and violence can be upsetting and can often cause stress in children. When kids see and hear about terrible news events, they may worry that something bad might happen to them or to someone they love.
A scary movie or a book. Fictional stories can also cause distress or anxiety in children. Children are commonly affected by frightening, violent, or upsetting scenes from a movie or passages in a book. While some kids might be more sensitive to some media content than others — what’s scary or upsetting for one child might have no affect on another — it’s a good idea to know what might upset your child, limit violent media content, and stick to age-appropriate movies, books, videogames and other media.
First, it’s important to note that toxic stress is not a determinant, but a risk factor. And while prevention is best, it’s never too late to mitigate its effects. It’s also critical to distinguish between “toxic stress” and normal stress. Normal stress helps foster good coping skills. It becomes harmful when it is prolonged and when adults do not interact in ways that make children feel safe and emotionally connected.
Aside from advocating for ways to minimize your child’s exposure to toxic stress and watching for warning signs, what else can you do to help your child? Some suggested ways to mitigate stress can be found here:
And, of course, the best practice that parents should follow in hekping reduce stress is to provide guidance, support and alot of unconditional love.