Saturday, November 24, 2007

NAEYC 2007 Session: Stress in children

Recognizing and responding to signs of stress in a preschool child

Presenters: Gerri Smalley, Michelle Salcedo, and Debra Moss, Learning Care Group

There are three kinds of stress:
1. Everyday: occurs on a day or a short series of days due to temporary stresses, such as lack of sleep, change in environment, or not enough breakfast
2. Chronic: occurs over a period of time, such as divorce
3. Traumatic: one-time occurrence that has lasting effects, such as death or moving

For the most part the signs of stress are what you would expect, particularly a change in behavior typical for a particular child. For example, many people talk about children using a lot of black or dark colors when they’re stressed. The presenters validated this observation but also noted that some kids just like the color black and it doesn’t mean anything. The key is to know the child.

For stresses that we can’t control, such as divorce, our job is the make the environment as safe-feeling for the child as possible depending on their needs. Consistent routines and repetition of activities the affected child enjoy are effective and don’t seem to bother other children.

For stresses we can control in our classroom environments it’s important to be creative even when we think we can’t change something. They presenters recommended having a quiet place in each room that the children know about and that they can retreat to at any time. They also urged us to look at our classroom spaces to make sure that it wasn’t so busy at a child’s level that we were causing stress inadvertently.

When dealing with stress we need to pay attention to our attitude. If we just focus on the problem behavior (biting, yelling, grabbing) and not on the underlying stress, nothing will be solved.

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