3 Ways Stress Impacts Learning

girl going to school
Image via Nicole Hempeck

Open a newspaper or turn on the evening news and you probably won’t be surprised to find some new update on the silent killer that surrounds us:  stress.  Bad for both physical and emotional well-being, stress continues to make headlines as a problem that needs to be taken seriously. 

While there seems to be increased understanding that stress can lead to major medical problems such as hypertension and ulcers for adults, it’s also important to note that stress can have significant repercussions for children as well. 

When stress is left unchecked in children it can lead to medical problems and frequent illnesses, symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, and it can impact a child’s ability to learn. 

It’s very difficult to think about things like math and reading when it feels like the whole world is crashing down around you.

 Stress can have some serious repercussions for little ones, and it’s important to be aware of those potential repercussions.  According to the CDC, it can “disrupt early brain development and compromise functioning of the nervous and immune systems”.

Three ways stress impacts learning:

When children are in a near-constant state of worry or overwhelmed by feelings of sadness as a result of stress, they struggle to perform well in the classroom.  It’s very difficult to think about things like math and reading when it feels like the whole world is crashing down around you.

Brain development:

When a child experiences stress, hormones are released and they circulate through the body.  Brain circuits are vulnerable as they are developing during early childhood.  Frequent and prolonged exposure to high levels of stress can affect the connection and development of those brain circuits, which in turn impacts development of the brain. 

In short, stress can negatively impact cognitive development and memory functioning for young children.  A 2009 study by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University found that kids exposed to household chaos had lower IQ’s and more conduct problems.

Attention:

Stress can cause all kinds of short-term problems, with sleep disturbance topping the list.  Kids under stress have difficulty falling and staying asleep, and tend to suffer sleep deprivation as a result.

One of the more dangerous side effects of sleep-deprivation is that impacts attention and focus.  While young children do not need to operate heavy machinery, they do need to learn.  Exhausted children struggle to focus in class and are risk of falling behind and/or missing valuable instructional time.

Emotional well-being:

Stress can trigger a variety of emotional reactions in young children.  While some children act out when under stress, others are more likely to internalize their emotions.  Children under stress often report symptoms of anxiety and depression.

When children are in a near-constant state of worry or overwhelmed by feelings of sadness as a result of stress, they struggle to perform well in the classroom.  It’s very difficult to think about things like math and reading when it feels like the whole world is crashing down around you.  

Bottom line:  Stress, when left unmanaged, can affect brain development, cognitive functioning, and emotional health.  All of these factors make it difficult to learn.  Watch for signs of stress and get help for your child.   

 

What do you think?

3 Ways Stress Impacts Learning

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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1 comment

  1. Phammom says:

    I’m not surprised. Stress isn’t good for anyone.

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