How Stress Affects Executive Function in Children—What Teachers Need to Know

Teaching stressed students and those with executive function deficits and anxiety disorders places additional demands and challenges on teachers. By equipping teachers with information and strategies to decrease classroom stress and boost executive function, teachers have an awesome opportunity to shape students’ brains in the best possible ways. Stress was once a topic associated with adults, but with the spike in anxiety among children, stress levels are increasing in the classroom, making it more challenging for teachers to teach and students to learn. More and more kids are acting out or zoning out in class, causing their stress response to activate and executive function skills to go offline. First, let’s clarify what executive function is. Think of it as your brain’s GPS system, a set of self-directed cognitive, social and emotional skills that tells the brain what, where and how to do something. This “system” cues and coordinates skills such as: Task initiation (i.e. getting started on an assignment and knowing how to organize/prioritize) Setting goals (i.e. making goals achievable…not too high or too low) Working memory (i.e. remembering directions or applying steps to a math problem) Self-monitoring (i.e. checking work and making improvements) Effort and Focus (i.e. sustaining the effort and focus needed to complete a task) Self-regulation (i.e. keeping emotions in check, particularly when obstacles occur) Cognitive flexibility (i.e. shifting gears or perspectives and transitioning from one task to another) Executive function is regulated in the prefrontal cortex and continues to develop throughout life. Since the brain is not fully developed at birth, children are not born with these skills needed for success in school and life...

How Parents Can Best Support Their Children During School Shutdowns

With very little warning, many parents or caregivers have a new role they didn’t anticipate filling on such short notice: Homeschool Teacher. Globally, schools are shutting down — some for a minimum of 30 days, others indefinitely. With very little warning, parents and children are adjusting to a whirlwind of new homebound changes and routines, many of which are adding high levels of stress to their daily lives. There is one new role many parents or caregivers didn’t anticipate filling on such short notice: Homeschool Teacher. While the thought of taking on this role may be initially overwhelming, take comfort in knowing you have been your child’s first and most important teacher all along. However, transforming your kitchen or dining room table into a classroom is another story. As you step in and support your child’s learning, a certain amount of stress is to be expected. Your child’s well being is a priority, and so is yours. Since parents don’t leave the hospital with their newborns and a parent toolbox in tow, allow me to equip you with a crash course of information, tips, and strategies about the science of learning and managing stress. If there was ever a need for a parent toolkit, it’s now. How Stress Works It all starts with a trigger. Worried thoughts follow, which activate a part of the brain called the amygdala, the brain’s alarm. It sends a “Mayday!” message to the brain indicating a threat, releasing stress chemicals which produce physiological changes throughout the body — rapid heart rate, sweaty palms, body tightness, headache and/or stomachache — and turn on the Fight,...

A Teacher’s Evolution: From Parent To Neuroeducator

My evolution from educator to neuroeducator has been a process of connecting the dots. It began with a love of learning and a passion to empower my students throughout the learning process, particularly the underperforming and those with ADHD or learning disabilities. As a mom and life-long educator, you can imagine my dismay when by 4th grade, my sons said they hated school. The spark they once had for school was barely a flicker. When asked, “How was school?” “Boring” was the daily refrain. “What did you learn?” “Nothing” was the typical response. I found this particularly frustrating because I was a teacher. A special educator to boot. Yet, I was unequipped to get to the root of the problem and felt I had fallen short as a parent and educator. I wanted to know why my sons, who loved learning, hated school. Over the years, I discovered they weren’t alone. In my classroom visits to schools across the country, I observed an increase of students in negative emotional states — anxiety, frustration, anger, boredom and lack of relevance to subject matter, causing them to act out or zone out — the same emotions my own sons were experiencing. And it wasn’t just me noticing these behaviors. I found myself in numerous conversations with teachers, coaches and parents who expressed frustration that their students, players or children lacked focus, motivation, resilience, self-regulation and self-direction, despite best efforts to instruct them. What was going on? It wasn’t until the diagnosis of a family member with Post-Concussion Syndrome that I started to get some answers. I became a regular participant at...