The first time you walk into a first or second grade classroom, you don’t think much about stress management for elementary students. What stress can a six or seven-year-old have to manage? All they have to do is get up and go to school, then go home and play.
Is Stress an Inescapable Part of Their Lives?
You are half right if you answered, “Yes.” You are half right if you answered, “No.” Unhappily, young children’s lives are as filled with stressors as is yours. Happily, stress from those stressors is not inescapable. Stress is the response to the stressor, and responses can be controlled.
If you are an elementary school teacher, you will recognize the following six examples of stressors that demand stress management for elementary students.
- Academic pressures
- Fear of the unknown at school
- Lack of classroom structure
- Lack of discipline / unfair discipline
- Risk of abuse by other children / bullying
- Risk of discrimination among children
As you read the above list, did you notice the commonalty? In each case, when we need stress management for elementary students, it is linked to their feelings that they cannot sufficiently control the situation.
Introducing Stress Management for Elementary Students
What program best provides stress management for elementary students? Should teachers hold workshops in the classroom? Should a course be added to the curriculum? How can your school, or an individual teacher, introduce stress management for elementary students? Here are three ways to begin.
Practice What You Intend to Preach: Stress management for elementary students begins with your example. Take time to identify and manage your own stressors – like that last minute meeting called by your principal. Did it challenge control of your time? Was your stress inescapable? Remember, it was your response that was the stress. Realize that you cannot control every moment of life. The principal exercises a degree of control. An appropriate, non-stress response would be cheerful acquiescence.
Structure Your Classroom: Introducing stress management for elementary students entails the introduction of structure to your classroom. As a career teacher and principal, I have seen many schools where a lack of structure was considered desirable. Teachers were praised for a free environment. Such an environment, however, feeds stress. Children cannot respond appropriately to stressors when the environment is unstructured. Boundaries and rules offer security. Classrooms should maintain schedules, orderliness, and consistent, firm discipline. Structure is essential in stress management for elementary students.
Provide Safety: Remember that stress is response to a stressor that threatens one’s control of the environment. From that standpoint, stress management for elementary students differs little from stress management for our early ancestors. Facing a stressor, our bodies respond by preparing for fight or flight. When you provide safety for children, you reduce the need for fight or flight. Work to control bullying, discrimination of all sorts, and other situations a child might deem unsafe.
Many teachers and principals who try to institute stress management for elementary students attack the stressors. There is merit in that, but be sure you take time to teach appropriate responses to stressors. Then you will be teaching stress management.