Free Event at Marbles Kids Museum to Ease School Stress

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Much is expected of today’s students, whether they are working toward reading benchmarks in kindergarten or taking the SATs for college, and studies bear out that this stress has trickled down to include even the youngest students.

A 2005 study of children in grades 3-12 by the California-based Institute of HeartMath confirmed that students today are feeling more pressure to perform. Many teachers interviewed for the study agreed that students have increasing levels of anxiety and stress at younger and younger ages. Some teachers have reported stress and anxiety as a major issue, even among kindergartners. The HeartMath study examined the performance of 900 high school students to measure stress levels and the effects of relaxation techniques on test scores, and found that 55 percent of 10th-graders often had high levels of test anxiety.

Jennifer Clifton, a counselor at Davis Drive Middle School in Cary, is well aware that school and stress sometimes go together, especially with today’s expectations. “I talk to kids and parents about this every day,” says Clifton, who has 12 years of experience in Wake County schools. Like many savvy counselors in school districts across the country, Clifton is incorporating relaxation techniques in her sessions with students. Her instruction focuses on deep muscle relaxation, visualization and stress-busting tips (see page 32). Increasingly, schools are including techniques like yoga and meditation in the regular academic programs to help children cope with stress. “As a counselor, I really talk with kids a lot about stress that’s avoidable or unavoidable,” Clifton says. “Many of the things children worry about are avoidable stressors that can be prepared for and addressed prior to school start-up.”

To ease kindergartener’s transition to school, Marbles Kids Museum is offering its annual “Kickoff to Kindergarten,” a free event in downtown Raleigh Saturday, Aug. 20 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Special guest storytellers will read stories about the kindergarten experience: WTVD ABC-11 reporter/anchor Shae Crisson at 11:00am and Wake County Public School System Superintendent Tony Tata at 4:00pm. UNC-TV. More details below.


Area counselors pinpointed the top school stressors as follows:

A new school or new classroom. Transitioning to a new school or classroom can be fraught with worry. Put fears to rest by attending orientation. Familiarity with the school, classroom and teacher reduces stress. Take a young child to the school playground. Also, accentuate the positive.

“I really believe that when parents are positive and excited and praise learning and good behavior, those things all encourage an inquisitive child who knows they have the ability to do well in school,” says Linda Law, a teacher-parent consultant with Project Enlightenment of Wake County.

– Bullies. Bullies are a concern at every age. If children are having difficulties, seek out school counselors. Help children learn to be assertive and tell the bully — or an authority figure — they want the undesirable behavior to stop. Ignoring bullies often doesn’t work. A school friend can minimize vulnerability to bullies.

– Riding the bus. Some children are apprehensive about riding the bus. A riding buddy can help. Review safety and procedures as well as route and bus numbers. (See our feature on bus-riding safety tips.)

– Getting lost or losing a schedule. Even into adulthood, anxiety dreams can relate to getting lost. Visit the school and point out key areas to your child such as the cafeteria, gym, media center, auditorium and classrooms. For older children, make several copies of the school schedule in case one is misplaced, and print a school map off the Internet (if available) or pick one up from the school office.

Try to arrive at school on time. “It’s okay to be late once in a while,” says Tara Bissette, a counselor at West Lake Elementary School in Apex with 10 years of experience. “But for kids who are consistently tardy, it can become an issue. It can be uncomfortable for a child to walk into school tardy every day and have the teacher and classmates looking at them.”

– Navigating the cafeteria. Young children may be intimidated by the cafeteria. Plan lunch with a friend at school for a practice run through the lunch line. – Academic performance. Worry over academic performance can be like a black cloud shrouding a child’s life. A study published in the May/June 2008 issue of the journal Child Development reported that family stress spills over into a teen’s school day, and the reverse also is true. When teens in the study experienced academic difficulties, the distress carried over to family life the next day. Staying organized will help. Older children need a way to track homework assignments, tests and projects. Provide a calendar or planner for children to list homework due dates. Bookmark pertinent school Web sites and check them regularly.

– Making friends. Social connections put children at ease. Help children form relationships with schoolmates. If your child is new to a school, or entering mid-year, ask a school counselor to pair the child with a buddy.

– Over-scheduling. Volumes have been written about the consequences of over-scheduling children, a common malady in our society. One recommended book is Reclaiming Childhood: Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement-Oriented Society by developmental psychologist William Crain. Life is about being, not just doing, and parents are charged with teaching children not just to achieve, but to enjoy life. That premise seems to have fallen through the cracks somewhere between soccer practice and dance lessons. A jam-packed schedule that leaves little room for unstructured play leeches the life out of anyone, but especially a child. Forego unnecessary commitments.

– PE class and recess. Familiarize your child with physical education and recess procedures so he or she knows what to expect. – Tests. Good study habits can alleviate a great deal of stress and set the stage for academic success. Arrange a comfortable study environment for your child, complete with pencils, scissors, erasers, a place to sit, a dictionary and a nearby computer. Help children learn study skills like repetition, identifying important points in a textbook and using flashcards. It helps to study for a test several nights in a row, rather than cramming. Common-sense strategies These strategies can help children through the school year:

– Encourage good study habits and organization.

– Maintain a regular sleep schedule. – Provide nutritious meals (especially breakfast). – Promote stress-busting outlets. – Teach children kindness and compassion. – Keep a sense of humor In addition, “Getting your children to bed on time and having a bedtime routine and sticking to that during the week is very important,” Bissette says. “It’s amazing how much a lack of sleep can affect a child’s performance and attention at school.” (See our article, “Back-to-School Transition: Sleep Smarts.”)

Also balance homework with down time. “Play a game with them, anything to help them understand how to unwind,” Bissette suggests. After a long day at school, children need outlets. Not a bad strategy for adults, either.



CONCERN: Separation
: Allow children to practice being away from you with a trusted caregiver. Introduce your child to the preschool setting, playground and teachers. See or for tips on early development and kinder-garten readiness or call the Project Enlightenment Talk Line at 919-856-7800.


CONCERN: Starting kindergarten
Teach children basic skills like putting on shoes and pants to ease the transition. Visit the Marbles Kids Museum ( for the annual “Kickoff to Kindergarten,” a free event in downtown Raleigh Saturday, Aug. 20 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., where kids can board a real school bus, get a library card and go through a lunch line. Attend the school orientation and introduce children to friendly faces of schoolmates and teachers.

Suggested Reading

– Look out Kindergarten Here I Come by Nancy Carlson

– Tom Goes to Kindergarten by Margaret Wild
– When You Go to Kindergarten by James Howe
– The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
– The Way I Feel by Janan Cain Middle School

CONCERNS: Going to a new school, getting lost, academic workload, opening lockers, social connections, lunch

ADVICE: Purchase a combination lock for children to practice opening before school starts. Provide a planner and visit school Web sites to track assignments. Familiarize your child with the campus in advance. Develop relationships with teachers and other children at school. Ask about the typical lunch protocol. High School

CONCERNS: Full schedules, academic pressures, social issues, college preparations
ADVICE: Talk with other parents and school counselors to navigate scheduling issues and college preparation requirements. Help children stay organized through Web sites and planners. Visit potential colleges and promote healthy outlets such as sports and clubs.

Good Stress, Bad Stress Stress gets a bad rap. Not all stress is bad stress. Eustress is “good stress,” the kind of stress that provides the necessary adrenalin, for example, to study for an exam. Distress, however, is harmful because it creates worry without concrete productivity.

With school districts facing the performance pressures of the “No Child Left Behind Act,” and students vying for entry to sought-after colleges, children sometimes feel they are in a pressure-cooker. Prolonged distress causes physiological and psychological changes that can lead to illness. Constant stress also has been shown to weaken the immune system, which leaves children more susceptible to illness.

Below are some telltale signs of distress in school-age children:

– Headaches – Refusal to attend school – Stomach upset – Lack of interest in friends – Poor academic performance – Nail-biting – Sleep disturbance – Anger, frustration Simple Stress Busters Talking to a friend Listening to music Walking the dog Laughing Deep muscle relaxation Visualization Positive thoughts Breathing deeply

Carol McGarrahan is a Triangle-area mother and freelance science and health writer

This article was updated July 24, 2011, from its original version

Categories: Early Education, Education, Elementary Years