Students get lessons in reducing stress

Stress isn't just an adult problem.

Studies show that children who suffer from stress may have a harder time learning in school.

To determine the causes of stress on local students, East Elementary School Counselor Alison Hobson conducted a survey with some district fourth-graders on Wednesday.

Hobson ran the informal poll to find out what causes stress for elementary school students.

"Do you get stressed if you're doing bad in school?" she questioned students. "What about if your parents are getting divorced or you have problems with your friends?"

Students chose from a list of 10 options written on the blackboard and raised their hands to the three most pertinent questions while they laid their heads down on their desks.

The fourth-graders' top three causes of stress mirror results Hobson has found at the school's other grade levels: Problems at home contribute most to student stress.

"It occurs to me that family life and relationships are the biggest stress factors here, even more than what they experience at school," Hobson said.

Students' top three stressors include fighting with siblings, not enough attention from parents and parents fighting or arguing with each other.

Other options that caused students stress -- but received fewer votes-- included sickness or death of a loved one, problems with teachers and watching parents go through a divorce.

Adults take their own stress seriously but don't realize that children are also affected by it, said Adolph Moser a psychologist and author the children's book "Don't Pop Your Cork on Monday!"

Hobson is using Moser's book as a teaching reference.

"It is estimated that one-half of all children in the United States now suffer from some type of stress-related disorder," Moser writes in the preface of his book. "What is even more startling is that younger and younger children are being affected by stress."

According to some research, stress inhibits the formations of new neurons in the brain.

A child under stress is likely to have difficulty thinking clearly, according to the group Kids Have Stress Too. The group offers workshops to parents and schools to help kids relieve stress.

"Concentration and creativity are often adversely affected by stress," the group's Web site says. "(Students) may also become forgetful or easily confused."

Educators at the district elementary school are studying the levels of student stress as part of the overall Second Step program initiated last year. The program addresses a wide array of issues to improve students' social skills, also touching on anger management skills and anti-bullying techniques.

As a facilitator for the Parent's Toolbox programs offered once a month, Hobson plans to address ways parents can reduce stress levels in their kids.

That may be as easy as spending a quality 10 minutes with a child, she said.

"Families are under pressure, that's why stress is such getting to be a bigger issue with students," she said.

Hobson will tally the survey results after polling each class at East Elementary School. After that, school educators will work harder to inform parents about children's stress level and its impact on education, she said.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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