Lessons in stress for primary children

1st November 1996 at 00:00
Children as young as nine are being given lessons in "relaxation and anger management" at a primary school in Glasgow's east end.

Lamlash primary in Easterhouse called in a team of counsellors from the Glasgow Association for Holistic Medicine to help children who display signs of aggression and anger in class. Counselling sessions and hand and foot massage are said to help pupils develop more healthy and constructive lines of communication.

Jane Reick, a doctor who specialises in alternative medicine, says: "A broken marriage, unemployed parents or living below the bread line can bring immense stress into a child's life."

Lamlash is a 210-pupil school sited between high-rise flats and maisonettes in the Cranhill district of Easterhouse. Thirty-one per cent of residents are unemployed.

Dr Rieck adds: "Many people believe that children are too young to suffer from stress but this is far from true. It can manifest itself in shouting in class and generally refusing to take part in lessons."

Anne Morrison, the school's headteacher, says: "In many ways the impetus came from parents who were worried about the level of stress in their children's lives. Without their co-operation, stress counselling would be unworkable. A disturbance in a child's home life can have serious effects on his or her work which not only affects the pupil concerned but the rest of the class too. The aim was to encourage the children to concentrate, focus on work and take more responsibility for their behaviour.

"There was one class with four children who were failing to come to terms with class work and resorted to disruption. When we informed the parents to ask for their co-operation in helping the children, we got a positive response. "

Dr Rieck's team was already running a stress counselling clinic for adults in Easterhouse. Work in the primary school involves groups for an hour and a half a week.

Kate Murphy, a nurse and counsellor, says parents who were worried about anxiety levels in their children brought them to the adult clinic for help. "It was then we realised the extent of stress in children within the community. It was obvious from that point that stress counselling needed to be extended to include youngsters."

An approach was made to the school and, with Pounds 26,000 in funding from Children in Need and the Dutch-based Van Leer Foundation, the project was established. Dr Rieck says: "Stress management involves teaching staff to help them develop self-awareness and understand how they respond to their own stress in order to interact fully with the children. The aim was to enable teachers to provide a more focused, relaxed and supportive environment within the classroom."

Fiona Craig, a teacher at Lamlash, says the project gave her "a greater insight into children's social problems and what else was going on in their lives". Her class had "four children with very strong personalities" and was split into four groups for stress counselling. "Concentration and attention have improved tremendously," Ms Craig says.

Diane Wilson, whose 11-year-old daughter became disruptive after her marriage broke down, says: "She has caught up with missed work and her lovely, pleasant nature has returned. We both learnt a lot and we communicate much better. "

Dr Rieck says stress is not confined to particular social classes or areas. "There are children from very comfortable backgrounds who fail to achieve because of stress. It is vital to give these children coping mechanisms. "

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