I recently reunited with an old friend. She is a massage therapist and has been certified in a new therapy called cranial release technique. Since I have been in chronic pain for years, I had her perform this technique on me twice. I was amazed at the results. My pain is diminished, I am sleeping better, and the effects of TMJ have lessened. However, during the therapy I did receive a scolding. My pain and the resulting need for this procedure was an indirect result of the stress I have been under for years.
And this made me think about the kids who are struggling in school. I have always known that these kids are under the most stress of all. They are stressed when report cards come out. They are nervous during lessons when they get in trouble for not paying attention or fail to understand concepts that other children understand easily. Often they are bullied on the playground or in class and that is the worst stress of all for them. Follow that with several hours of homework at night and parents who are frustrated because they feel their children are lazy or dawdling.
I am amazed that these kids can function at all! Too many kids in our schools sit each day in misery, dread, and fear. They die a slow death every day they enter a classroom. And part of each day is spent in fight or flight, and we know that humans don’t learn when in fight or flight.
Have you ever lost a toddler? That terrible panic causes all thought processes to stop. You can’t even recall the color of shirt the little one was wearing. Fortunately, the fight or flight experience passes, and normalcy is returned. But what about kids who have to deal with chronic stress every day? How are they able to learn?
Extreme or sustained stress can damage the brain’s hippocampus, making it difficult to learn new things. Animal researchers at the University of South Florida found that stressed rats continuously explored their surroundings, as if they had no ability to retain memory. And we wonder why students can’t remember their multiplication facts!
It’s important that we recognize the stress in our young learners. And it must be alleviated. Too often I see students either retreat or act out in response to the terrible stress that they are under every day at school. Wonderful, loving children whose only crime is struggling to learn. They feel punished, isolated, dumb, and all too often stressed out. Learning should be easy, not painful. School should be safe and enjoyable. Not scary.
If you have noticed the effects of stress in your own child, it is important to do something to help alleviate it. There is so much that can be done. I chose to have the stress on my body. But these kids aren’t choosing it. They are only enduring it.