Sunday, September 02, 2007

Parents blamed for pre-school stress

In many communities across the United States, the first day of school is usually the day after the Labor Day weekend. (image credit) As (some) parents rejoice and (some) kids dread the start of another school year, there is new research data being released stating that parents cause kids more stress when starting school.

Before all the parents who read my blog start to throw things at me, I'm just reporting a news story here (smile). This study is from the UK and courtesy of icWales. The study looked at kids who are starting school for the first time.
Scientists measured the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in children two weeks after they had started primary school and then again six months later. They also took cortisol measurements three to six months before the children started school to provide baseline levels for comparison.

The researchers said they were surprised to find that, far from providing a baseline, children’s cortisol levels were already high several months before the start of the school term.

High rates of the hormone can even make children more susceptible to colds and other minor illnesses.

Dr Julie Turner-Cobb, from Bath University, who led the research, said, “This suggests that stress levels in anticipation of starting school begin to rise much earlier than we expected.”

Dr Turner-Cobb said it was unclear why pre-school children would become anxious so far in advance, but suggested that parents were getting stressed about their children starting school and were passing those fears onto their children.
The article goes on to talk about how things were easier when they had an older sibling who already went through the "starting school" process. The article also talks about how the first day of school can also be tough on parents.

Now, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to make some of these assumptions. But, I thought the cortisol data was interesting. Any thoughts out there on the stress level of kids and parents when it comes to the first day of school?


Gerbil said...

Two words: separation anxiety.

Chrysalis Angel said...

"Back to School" commercials that start mid-July.

Here they just get out, and maybe get a week or two of feeling free, and then see those.

yinyang said...

I'm just jealous that they get to start after Labor Day when we're right before our third week already.

Muddy said...

We have always homeschooled (now in our high school years)-so we never had to deal with the particular stress related to "going to school". "Going to school" for our kids meant walking across the bedroom to their desk, or down the hall to the kitchen (aka our cafeteria).

Dr. Deb said...

I have two words:

Emotional Contagion

Anonymous said...

Kids aren't stupid. They know school stinks. I wouldn't blame it on the parents. No matter how 'fun' parents and the media try to portray school, kids know otherwise.

Smart kids.

twilite said...

I agree with Dr's transference of parent's anxiety on child! Blame? No...reality. Children are stressed when mothers are. Scientifically interesting... the cortisol data!

Ami said...

Institutional schooling is harmful to many children on many levels.
I'm only surprised that it's taken this long to find an actual correlation between the stress of school and the condition of the, students.

Wonder how much longer it will be before it's openly acknowledged that most children would be better off without the damage and stress caused by schooling them inside the institution.

And how much longer after that before people start listening?

crazy working mom said...

Very interesting information, Dr A. Since my children are pre-school...I can't really relate to "school" specifically, but my youngest started day care the first week in August and it was really tough on both of us. Even though I work (and always have) it was tough on him taking him out of his routine with grandma and starting new with strangers at day care.

xvfa said...

A couple of things. First of all, just because this researcher found that kids were stressed three to six months before starting school does NOT mean that they were stressed because they were starting school soon. She didn't, for example, take cortisol levels a year before starting school. Maybe they would be stressed then as well. And, to state the obvious, maybe the stress is due to something other than school. Maybe kids are just stressed. Or maybe the "high" cortisol levels are really normal. We don't know, since she never got a real baseline. Also, to respond to those people who are saying that homeschooling is less stressful and therefore better -- the real take-home message from this study was that after a while, the stress of starting school disappeared. Of course people are stressed when they are put in a new situation. It's called life! Then they adapt to the new environment and they are stronger as a result. Not that I'm saying homeschooling doesn't have its advantages -- it may have some -- but keeping kids home in order to protect them from changes in their environment isn't one of them!