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Children and Stress
By Brian Hill M.A. (Edin)
From the Gazette Archives
Originally published February, 2002
January 1, 2008
Each month, Teachers.Net reaches back into the Teachers.Net Gazette vault, to bring you a great article or feature that deserves a second look. This month, from the February 2002 Teachers.Net Gazette, we proudly reprint this insightful article from Brian Hill entitled, "Children and Stress."

Stress tends to be thought of as an adult problem, if not preoccupation these days. For years many doctors didn't even recognise its existence. But that's all changing now as our knowledge of brain chemistry improves. Today we can give chapter and verse on what stress is.

Put simply, stress triggers off our fight or flight response, a reactive, automatic defence mechanism which gives us extra energy to fight or flee any given emergency via a burst of adrenaline.

The Brain

The brain's control centre, the Limbic system, contains four major elements. One of these is the Hypothalamus, sensitive to any outside danger which could result in our physical or emotional hurt.

The Hypothalamus immediately signals the Pituitary gland which in turn signals the adrenaline glands which release up to 30 hormones, one of which is cortisol, too much of which damages the immune system leading to colds and flu at best.

Major Energy Boost

These extra hormones are pure energy and are used as an extra burst of speed for escape, or to give us extra and sometimes extraordinary strength to fight the danger. (There are many recorded incidents of small women lifting huge weights to free trapped children for example, or men tackling fierce animals to save their partners or children.)

Other examples of heroism are accompanied by the phrase, it all happened so fast and of course, that's the clue, our reaction to the event is governed at a subconscious level and therefore at a speed far beyond normal conscious thought processes. The rush of adrenaline is instant and our consequent reactions are equally instant and out with our control.


Stress manifests itself as anxiety or secondary tension. Females and young boys tend to be anxious whereas older males hold their anxiety in check i.e. fake it, and build up even more serious tensions. One reason I'm sure why males on average live up to five years less than females.

Tension and anxiety in most children however begins with their parents, especially the mother. Show me a school failure and I will show you an anxious child who has an anxious mother. The child picks up the tension and/or anxiety from the parents at a subconscious level.

The following questions now arise. How does this anxiety affect the child? And, what can be done about it?


Anxiety can affect the child in a variety of ways. One obvious example is bed-wetting. Less than 1% of bed-wetters have a physical problem, it's virtually always anxiety of some sort of another which creates so much tension that the bladder cannot be fully opened while the child is awake. When the child sleeps, that part of the brain which controls the bladder 'switches off'. Muscles relax and the water flows uncontrollably.

This doesn't mean that the anxious child sleeps well, on the contrary, anxiety creates havoc with sleep patterns and this in turn affects the child's ability to function properly. First of all, the child can be tired and listless next day.

Assimilating Information

Secondly, we use sleep to make sense of events which happened during the day, that includes making sense of what we have learned during the day. If we don't fully assimilate the days learning, our decks are cluttered for the next days learning and that makes future assimilation even more difficult. Multiply that over a period of weeks and months and you can see how easily it is to fall behind in the learning process.


It's understandable but completely wrong to imagine that if someone is failing to pick up the basics like spelling, tables and reading, that they must be lacking in intelligence. Most early learning is done at the subconscious level via a process known as Ontogenesis. For example, we don't learn to speak formally, we pick it up as we develop. Equally, other major players in the learning process also work at the level of the subconscious, for example belief systems, in this case self-belief and self-confidence.

The expectations of others affect our own expectations and as you will read in future articles, these expectations are extremely powerful forces. They can drive us on to higher things or they can limit us for the rest of our lives. Happily they can also be altered. The point is they have to be recognised. Unrealistic expectations, for example parents demanding too much of a child before the child is ready, will drive up the child's anxiety ratings which will have the exact opposite affect which the parent is trying to achieve for the child.

Intellectual Development

Recent research by Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard Psychology Department has identified 8 different types of intelligence in all of us, two on the left side of the brain, what I call the masculine intelligence and two on the right, which I call the feminine intelligence. Masculine intelligence is straight line and sequential in nature, i.e. mechanical. It is relatively simple to develop and most of its work is already being taken over by computers. The vastly more complex feminine intelligence is what gives us our humanity and will never be matched by anything other than a living computer, if such a thing can ever be devised.

The point here is that left brain children, especially boys will appear to soar ahead on in the academic field leaving their right brain counterparts floundering in their wake. At this point parents, especially left brain fathers might panic. They begin to put major pressures on their right brain sons to stop being so 'lazy', get some work done and stop messing about with all that arty farty rubbish, without realising that their right brain sons were infinitely more intelligent than they were themselves. With the correct training, i.e. using Wholebrain Teaching methods their children could easily begin to master the basics and make considerable progress across the academic map.

Know Your Child

First of all, all humans are programmed to learn, but we are not all programmed to learn the same things or in the same way. Indeed, the modern workforce is expected to continually update its information throughout its working life and this will be the case for generations to come.

Learning for life is no longer an empty slogan but a reality. So if your child seems a bit slow at times, encourage and stimulate by all means, but do not force, panic or show alarm or you will create growing anxieties in your child which, as we have seen, will actually prevent your child from learning.

Look for the signs of right brain dominance. The most obvious is left-handedness. Most left handers, certainly everyone I've ever met, are right brain dominant. Right brain children tend to be dreamy and unworldly. They will remember tunes better than words, will be sensitive and intuitive, people orientated and caring. They are far more likely to be affected by any form of row in the house than their left brain counterparts, but will be especially hurt and confused if the shouting is directed at them.

They are delicate flowers and should be handled with care, loads of love and affection. They thrive on intellectual and emotional stimulation and the attention of adults. All children should be treated with respect, but right brain children especially; they are very perceptive and are not easily fooled; though they might allow you to think they have been.

Right brain intelligence wont accept that 4(2a 3b)(2d + 3c) = x 77p unless they know why and what for, whereas the left brain will happily accept if told to and learn the why's and wherefores later on. Left brain intelligence is one dimensional and operates in a narrow range whereas right brain intelligence thinks wide and deep and wants to know everything.

Dyslexia and its Signs

Most, if not all dyslexics are right brain dominant, dyslexia being an underdevelopment of the left hemisphere and a dysfunction between left and right hemispheres. The left hemisphere organises our thinking and our information, by paying attention to the details of a subject.

The signs that your child is dyslexic to some extent or another are these.

  1. Difficulty distinguishing between left and right.
  2. Difficulty mastering the technique of tying shoe laces or buttoning coats or shirts/blouses.
  3. Learning anything in sequence for example: Days of the week; Months of the year; the Alphabet.
  4. Writing d instead of b and vice versa.
  5. Short term memory problems due to anxiety.

Defence Mechanisms

To combat problems within their lives your child's subconscious will develop defences to keep the trauma of failure to a minimum e.g. 'laziness'; withdrawal; selective deafness; defiance; truancy; to name but a few. The Fear of Failure in itself is a major obstacle to learning. Fear of letting you, the parents down. Letting the teacher down, letting themselves down in front of adults they respect and need respect from, and of course, from their peers. They would rather die than look stupid in front of their peers.


Children can be even more affected by stress than adults can. What's more they pick up our stress and develop their own from it. Stress interferes with the short-term memory, which is electrical in form and very easily disrupted. It's housed in the Limbic System and is the brain's 'clearing house' or control centre. All information flows in and out of the Limbic System. Stress interrupts the flow of information in and out of the centre, thus learning and memory is disrupted. It affects all of us this way, but especially children and especially those very sensitive right brain boys.

ECAL Techniques

To combat stress in the clients to came to the Edinburgh Centre from all over the UK, Brian Hill adapted and developed two techniques especially for students. The Magic Garden is a simple but powerful piece of therapy aimed at those students under 12 years old. The Study Relaxer is for all students from the age of 12 and over.

Both techniques will relax the students, allowing for a good wholesome night's sleep. They will build confidence and self esteem and generally create the correct atmosphere for Students to learn and assimilate new information and remember and use learned information, especially during exams.

As a secondary issue, The Magic Garden also stops bedwetting, nightmares and sleepwalking within 7 to 10 days.

You can order or find out more about the Wholebrain Learning Techniques developed at the Edinburgh Centre by emailing or visiting the website:

Key Points

Stress affects children even more than adults because they handle it worse than we do.

Most childhood stress is caused by adult expectations, adult disapproval, or even parental stress, picked up at the level of the subconscious.

Stress interferes with signals entering or leaving the brain. Thus learning is a major victim of stress, especially in children.

Children in particular, need a happy, loving environment in which to learn.

Signs of stress can stretch from withdrawal to tantrums. Tiredness could indicate broken sleep pattern due to stress.

A happy, supportive, unconditional loving atmosphere is the best cure for childhood stress.

Case Study

One of my earliest clients was a 12 year old girl who was in special needs. She had a very low IQ, as denoted by her low, slow speech. She couldn't go out on her own, threw tantrums, wet the bed, had nightmares and regularly walked in sleep. She was making virtually no academic progress and the parents were led to believe this was not likely to improve much over the years.

I adapted a simple visualisation technique to her needs, The Magic Garden, and made a tape for her which she played nightly. Within 10 days her nocturnal problems were over. She had been suffering from acute anxiety which prevented her from learning, this further lowered her confidence and self esteem. The Magic Garden tape broke the cycle of anxiety, non learning, low self esteem etc and allowed her to begin to move forward. That, combined with other ECAL Wholebrain Learning Techniques, saw her in main school education within three years.

More Gazette articles...

About Brian Hill...

Brian Hill is an Educationalist, formerly at the Edinburgh Centre for Accelerated Learning and the Stress Management Centre in Harley Street, London. He is a specialist in Accelerated Learning.

In the 80's he developed a range of Whole-brain Learning Techniques to help dyslexics and slow learners who came to his Centre from all over the UK. In the mid 90's he wrote the Techniques up and they have been selling ever since over the Net. In 1997 he licensed Classroom Resources to sell his Techniques throughout schools in the UK.

Today, ECAL Educational Products are updating and modernising the Techniques. The Relaxation Tapes are now in CD form and the first of the booklets should be ready as an Interactive CD Rom by the end of February.

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