Relax to Learn
- Psychological stress affects even very young children and can substantially shape the course of their cognitive, social and emotional development.
- Stresses that accompany low income directly impair specific learning abilities in children, potentially setting them back in many domains of life.
- Children from more affluent backgrounds can also encounter stressful situations that weaken their capacity to learn. Reducing stress in young people could improve the well-being and cognitive performance of large numbers of schoolchildren.
Stress can be toxic at any age. It rattles us when it strikes, shaking up our relationships and narrowing our focus. When it becomes chronic, it ravages our health. Physically, emotionally and intellectually, stress can drag us down.
An even more insidious effect is the assault it can launch on a child's brain, impeding the development of critical cognitive skills. A number of researchers, including myself, have discovered that psychological stress affects the thinking skills and brain development of even very young children, likely beginning prenatally. It is no mystery that stress thrives in difficult situations, but research is now showing that a disadvantaged upbringing may set back children in profound, lasting ways. In fact, stress may be one important mechanism through which poverty adversely affects children's ability to perform well in school.