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Child Stress

For the four or five year old, starting school can be a traumatic experience and as such produce stress feelings. In some cases, there will be a difficulty in adjustment, from what may have been a quiet, ordered environment with few, if any, other children, to one of apparent confusion, bustle and noise. Frequently, 'new starters' suffer separation anxieties and may have real fears about being hurt or bullied by older children and even little things such as being allowed to go to the toilet. In order to ease such a child into a new situation, a sympathetic teacher is required. This is perhaps less easy today, now that schools have responsibility for a finite budget, and in order to balance the books, frequently have to go for the cheapest teachers, who are usually the least experienced and adept at handling situations. The problem of easing the less than confident child into school may also be compounded by increasingly large early years' class sizes.

Middle childhood, roughly from age five to ten or eleven, is a period where children who develop normally and are not developmentally delayed, appear to suffer from potential stressors and begin to make their own coping strategies. Some of the fears from early childhood may remain and as such prove stressful; typical examples are fear of being left alone, and fierce animals. Fear of the dark and of ghosts and strange creatures can also persist. These fears gradually fade at around age ten and so stress from such matters is reduced. During the middle childhood, children can be subject to pressures from within their family, which can cause them stress.Where they fear the death of a parent, or a parent leaving home this can lead to stress for them. Where there are arguments in the family, this can lead to feelings of anxiety in case one parent leaves or physically harms the other. Unstable relationships can be unsettling for a child at any age, but it would appear they are particularly vulnerable during this period of middle childhood. One body of research, describing a case of twin boys, has demonstrated that compensation can be effective. The boys in this study were placed in a children's home after the death of their natural mother. Then from the ages of one and a half to seven years they were subject to extremely harsh treatment by their father and stepmother. They were kept in almost total isolation, lived in a small unheated closet and were not allowed in the tidy areas of the flat. They had to sleep on polythene sheets and were often locked in the cellar and cruelly beaten. The twins were also denied adequate access to food, fresh air and exercise. Whilst neighbours were aware of some of the happenings, they were unwilling to interfere as they did not want to enter into a confrontation situation with the step-mother, as they knew her to be an aggressive person. Eventually, at the age of seven, the boys were placed in an institution where they received special education. It had been envisaged by a number of professionals that these children had an extremely low chance of ever becoming 'normal'. On entry to the institution, the boys' mental age was assessed as being about three years of age. By chronological age nine, after two years in the institution, they were considered to be able to integrate into an ordinary school and be placed with foster parents. During the first year with the foster family and whilst attending the ordinary school, the boys showed an improvement in their IQ of around 10 points, as measured an IQ test. The intellectual development continued; by the age of 12, the twins' IQs were within two points of 100, the average level. Psychological reports also seemed to indicate normal emotional development. It was noted that there was a great bond between foster mother and with each other on the part of the twins. School relationships were also good. Clearly, it is not possible to know how well the boys would have developed given an upbringing like this from birth.

What it does show, however, is the importance of a stable family, where there is care and love, if stress on children is to be minimalised.