Some Teachers Raise Children’s Stress Levels

Some Teachers Raise Children’s Stress Levels

Recently I heard about a kindergarten teacher who sounded nothing like the kindergarten teacher I had way back when.

My kindergarten teacher was pretty, smiled all the time, and seemed to love every child in the class. She was soft-spoken, nurturing, and made every day enjoyable for every student.

Other kindergarten teachers I have known are cheerful, positive, engaging, and supportive. The activities they provide for the children are as much fun as they are educational. If a child is having a bad day, there is always time for a hug or a kind word. Children who are having problems with separation or sadness can always find a welcome lap, and they never have to worry that their troubles will be met with a cross word.

But that isn’t the teacher I just heard about. She is loud, sarcastic, and abrasive. She berates children who don’t live up to her expectations, and she frequently sends young children to the hallway or to the office by yelling, “Get out of my face! Just get out of here!”

Other favorite expressions of hers include: “Really!”, “Oh my god!”, and “You make me sick!” In the staff lounge she complains to other teachers that the children never listen to her and that her current crop of five-year-olds are “the worst behaved kids I’ve ever seen.”

While she busies herself at her desk, she expects the children in her room to put their heads down on their table or she turns on a video or movie to keep them engaged. As I listened to the horror stories about this teacher — who obviously should have retired or left the teaching profession a long time ago — I wondered what kind of damage she was doing to these children. What effect would a teacher like this have on the growth and development of young children?

While the most vulnerable kids may be turned off by school and possibly some may never recover, what about even the most resilient of the kids who have to put up with a teacher like this? What happens to them?

Certainly young children first entering school need frequent and close contact with a pleasant and supportive teacher. Furthermore, they need a learning environment that features appropriate stimulation, carefully planning, and supervision. The absence of these things will result in a less successful school environment and may result in some failures in brain development.

But then there is the matter of stress and stress hormones. The body produces chemicals called hormones that help regulate body functions and reactions to the environment. Cortisol is one of those hormones. Cortisol increases in response to stress and it contributes to the fight-or-flight reflexes that help the body respond to challenging situations.

Many things in a child’s daily life may increase their cortisol level. Such things as being hungry, hearing loud noises, being yelled at or criticized, being given unrealistic expectations, or being given a difficult problem to solve will all increase the cortisol level.

In moderate doses, cortisol increases can be a good thing. Moderate cortisol increases help the brain respond to stress and solve problems. However, too much cortisol production over an extended period of time is not good. The detrimental effect of this overproduction of cortisol can lead to memory problems as well as a decreased ability to exercise self-control.

In other words, being exposed to considerable stress on a daily basis will harm a child’s ability to remember important information while seriously damaging his or her ability to control negative emotions and impulsive behaviors. This is just the opposite of what should happen in the early grades of school.

Instead, the early classroom environment should be relatively stress-free. There should be an abundance of positive emotions, and the environment ought to promote learning and enhanced brain development, which can be provided by a teacher who is calm, supportive and positive.

Children exposed on a daily basis to a teacher who raises their cortisol levels are likely to be anxious, distressed, and inclined to social withdrawal. The teacher who constantly raises her student’s cortisol levels while viewing her students as disruptive and behaviorally disturbed is most likely to produce the kinds of kids who — in her mind –justifies her continued unprofessional behavior.

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If You Fight With Your Co-parent will this Affect your Child’s Development?

If You Fight with Your Co-parent will this Affect your Child’s Development?

Stacy, the mother of 6-year-old Ashley, was in one of my high-conflict divorce groups. Stacy is a bright woman. She is an attorney with advanced degrees. After listening to a discussion about why conflict is detrimental to children, Stacy tentatively raised her hand.

“I’m not sure I understand this,” Stacy said. “I don’t get why the conflict between her dad and I would have anything to do with her development. She has to recognize that he and I are different and she’s going to know she is a girl, so why would our arguments and fights affect her role identity?”

This actually was an excellent question which gave us a chance to talk more about how children establish their identities and how gender role develops. In addition, of course, it provided a wonderful opportunity to talk about the effect parental conflict may have on children’s identity.

In early childhood, children look to their same-sex parents in order to figure out the appropriate roles for them as either a male or female. Although this seems simple enough, there are various theories about how boys learn to be boys and girls to be girls. The social learning theory in child development says that children learn how to be either a boy or a girl through observation. They see, according to this view, how boys act differently from girls.

Furthermore, social learning theory holds that children are rewarded differently by adults for different kinds of behavior. Thus, they choose to engage in sex-appropriate behaviors that lead to approval or rewards from their parents.

Yet, despite other theories (in addition to social learning theory) about how boys and girls learn to act like others of their gender, there is considerable evidence that from an early age there are innate differences that shape the ways boys and girls behave. By age three, most children develop an identity as a girl or a boy. And by age five or six, most children know whether they are members of the male sex or the female sex.

This does not mean that all observation and learning ceases from this point. Throughout adolescence and into adulthood, people are constantly developing and refining their identity.

It was the great psychologist Erik Erikson who in the mid-20th century recognized that identity was the major personality achievement of adolescence. Erikson said that a young’s person’s identity formation was a crucial step toward becoming a happy and productive adult. According to Erikson, identity involves children and teens defining who they are, what they value, and the directions they would like to pursue in life.

But there can be road blocks to the successful establishment of identity. When teens are having trouble figuring out who they are and what they value, that is called role confusion. What leads to role confusion?

Several things can cause role confusion, but one factor is low self-esteem. Although moving from middle school to high school can cause some temporary declines in self-esteem, most adolescents experience rising levels of self-esteem as they progress through high school.

But, self-esteem is often related to the home environment. When there is warmth, emotional support, approval, and positive problem solving going on, young people will like themselves. However, when the home environment is largely negative, inconsistent, or discouraging, teenagers will be uncertain of their abilities, and they may feel incompetent and unloved. As a result, they may be constantly in need of reassurance and their self-esteem may fluctuate dramatically.

On the other hand, parents who engage in and demonstrate positive problem-solving skills foster high-esteem in their children. In families in which there is discord and negative problem solving, children do not feel a sense of well-being. They may be very confused about whether they want to be like their same-sex parent, and they may be conflicted about the direction they want to go in life. That is, when there is on-going co-parent fighting and conflict, teens will lack clear directions. Furthermore, they will not feel committed to values and goals. And they may have failed to figure out who they are, may wonder about the importance of growing up and having intimate relationships, and may have a greater sense of hopeless about the future.

Although children who have grown up with parental conflict will be very well aware of their gender identity as a male or female, they may be confused about feeling good as a boy or a girl.

Is Honesty with Children always the Best Policy?

Is Honesty with Children always the Best Policy?

Many parents believe that honesty is the best policy when it comes to communicating with their children. But can honesty be detrimental to children?

Consider these situations:

  • After a separation or divorce, your child asks why you and Daddy don’t love each other anymore. Are you supposed to give all the sordid details of why the breakup occurred? Especially, if, indeed, there are circumstances, such as an affair, which led to the end of the relationship?
  • Your child asks for a new winter jacket, but you say you can’t get one for her. She asks why. Are you supposed to say that you don’t get any child support from your co-parent and you’re struggling financially to provide the bare necessities?
  • Your former spouse has seen your children consistently, but recently because of a criminal offense, they are trying to evade the police as there is a warrant for their arrest. You both agree that if your ex-spouse takes the children there could be a situation where the police stop them and they are arrested and taken away in handcuffs in front of the kids. So, you both agree it is better the other parent not take the children right now to avoid that kind of circumstance. What do you say to the children as to why their other parent isn’t coming to see them anymore?

These three scenarios are rather common, but they present dilemmas for one or both parents in trying to anticipate and answer children’s questions or explain why there may be changes in the family life. Are you supposed to be honest and “tell the truth,” or is it better to withhold information or tell a white lie in order to protect either the children or one (or both) parents?

There are no hard and fast rules about this, but there are factors that must be taken into consideration in order to make decisions as to what you share with your children.

One factor that must be considered is the age of the child. Young children, although this can apply to adolescents as well, just do not have the maturity or the life experiences to adequately understand some matters. For instance, sharing details about an affair, sexual difficulties, or domestic violence may be seen by a child in a black-and-white way without being able to see various aspects of the situation.

Another factor is the closeness that the child enjoys with the parent whom you may disparage with negative information. If the child loves the other parent, enjoys a special bond with that parent, or even idolizes him or her, being told something negative (albeit, true) about that parent may be accepted without question, be denied, or may lead to feeling caught in the middle. Young children generally should have not their idealized image of a parent smashed so early.

A third factor is what giving true — but critical information — about the other parent will do to the child’s relationship with you. Being told something negative about their other parent is likely to place them in the middle of the situation. We typically say that a child is “stuck in the middle.” In more psychological terms, being in the middle and feeling pulled in two different directions creates a loyalty bind for most children.

In a loyalty bind, the child must find a way of trying to reconcile what they feel (love towards the other parent) versus what they’ve been told (negative feedback about that parent). Who are they to believe? Which parent should they be loyal to? What should they say or do with each parent – particularly when they are with each parent?

This is such a difficult situation for most kids, that they often become alienated from one or both parents, lie to maintain a sense of loyalty to each parent, or develop hostile and angry feelings to one or both of their parents. Either way, there is nothing about being told the truth about one of their parents that brings, joy, good feeling, or a more tranquil sense of peace.

When faced with this kind of dilemma, you must carefully weigh these factors before giving too much information or before being absolutely honest.