We are millions of Quebec families to bring their child to the daycare every morning, usually running, not to be late for work. We leave are children in places filed up with noise and screams and we pick them up 8 to 10 hours later. Are we still contributing to our child’s stress? Recent studies have shown that we did not contribute to are child’s stress and that the educator had an important role to play. The studies show that educators who are very sensitive and that listen to our child’s demands are more likely to diminish the secretion of stress hormones in are children. Once more, it is the adult’s behavior (in this particular case the educators) that help kids to manage novelty, unpredictability and to increase their sense of control. Many educators will tell you that Monday’s are harder then Wednesday’s at the daycare. Every Monday represent a transition in a kid’s life, from a weekend spent at home to the daycare on Monday morning, which increases the unpredictability and diminishes sense of control. This is why it is very important that in daycares there is stability in the staff for the child to be reassured that the transition from home to daycare is not a path filled with novelty and unpredictability.
What comes out in most studies measuring stress in children is that parents are very important actors to manage their child’s stress. However, they can also be an important source of stress for their kids. A couple of years ago, I conducted a study where I demonstrated that children exposed to poverty secrete more stress hormones then children in a higher socioeconomical situation. We also showed that when the mother shows depressive symptoms, the child reacts by secreting an abnormal level of stress hormones. In both studies, the effect of the environment was present only in children aged 6 to 10 years old and disappeared in adolescent aged 12 to 16. It is clear that the importance accorded to parents diminishes at adolescence to make place for friends. Also, when growing up, kids develop cognitive capacities that allow them to establish a better sense of control over their environment. It is then possible that a child exposed to a stressful family environment at adolescence will benefit of diminishing of stress.
What is important to remember as for stress in children is that stress is relative. Its presence depends on a multitude of factors starting with the family environment, the age, the personality of the child and their social environment. However, the only thing that does not change with stress are the causes: novelty, unpredictability and absence of control. Working on this point, is to assure yourself and your family a good harmony.