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A Stressed Brain Cannot Learn

As summer time approaches and many children will be entering Kindergarten this fall, parents and teachers alike are left to wonder, “Are they ready?” and “What does Kindergarten readiness really mean?”  Consider this: One in every four children under the age of four years old have experienced some form of trauma in our country.  According to Judy Darling LMSW, IMH-E@IV of Transforming Teachers, social emotional health and development is the number one indicator of future academic success.  Darling says, “Learning requires a calm brain. Imagine what it felt like to take an exam during your school days. You’re tense and that type of stress makes it difficult to remember what you know, even when you studied night after night.  The same is true for our preschoolers, as they cannot recall the information they know when they have experienced or are experiencing trauma induced stress. In short, a stressed brain cannot learn.”
Research published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2015 concluded that regardless of how high a child scores on reading tests or how high their family income may be, kindergarteners who demonstrate social emotional competence will be much more likely to continue their education, stay out of jail and have higher yearly earnings at age 25!
So,what can a be done to support social emotional development in such a young learner?  Try these three strategies with the little ones you love.
1. Label and acknowledge children’s feelings and yours, too. Try saying, “You’re smiling and jumping up and down. That shows me you’re excited!” You might also say, “You’re crying. You look and sound upset. I feel upset when I can’t have ice cream for breakfast, too.”
2.  Play!  As in pretend-play! Does your child have a favorite doll or dinosaur figurine?  As you play with your child, try to act out a scenario that was challenging for your child.  Did they throw their favorite toy when it was time to put it away and get ready for bed? Did they push a playmate who tried to take over riding their tricycle? Act out how the scenario should have ended. This playful scene creates a teachable moment that your child will recall…eventually.
3. Create opportunities for children to act with empathy.  Let children be leaders and as you follow their directions, ask for help. Refer children to one another when one child is struggling with a task.  For example, if a child is crying, an adult might say, “Oh no. It looks like he is sad. Is there anything we can do to make him feel better?” Follow the child’s lead if they share an idea either through action or verbally.  Acknowledge this empathetic behavior by saying something like, “It must feel good to make him feel better by giving him his teddy bear. I bet you’re proud.”
 Interested in knowing more about how your little one scores in the social emotional department and activities to keep them on target? Take the Ages and Stages Questionnaire- Social Emotional edition for children under the age of 6! If your child is enrolled in school, ask teachers how they support children’s social emotional development in the classroom.
Wayne RESA Early Childhood Specialist Guest Writer: Carissa Orr, M.A. ECE
Author: Wayne RESA - GSRP

Great Start Readiness Program is a Michigan state-funded preschool program for four-year-old children with factors which may place them at risk of educational failure. The program is administered by the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Great Start. Funding is allocated to Wayne RESA to administer the program locally. These blogs were developed and funded under a grant awarded by the Michigan Department of Education. Research on preschool programs and specific research on GSRP indicates that children provided with a high-quality preschool experience show significant positive developmental differences when compared to children from the same backgrounds who did not attend a high-quality preschool program.