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Poverty-related stress impacts school start

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Children, stress and school. A bad combination. Now studies show that stress in the lives of poor children is one cause for the achievement gap between kids with money and kids without. They start out behind in part because of the stress in their lives.

Executive functioning is considered important for regulating behavior, managing new and potentially confusing information, adjusting to school and making academic progress in the early elementary grades. The ability to executive function develops in early childhood, and can be compromised by stress. The goal of the study was to find out if executive functions were compromised by stress in children’s lives.

Looking at 1300 children from low income families, they examined their lives between the ages of seven and 24 months including demographic characteristics, the household environment (safety and noise levels), and the quality of parenting (maternal sensitivity, detachment, and intrusiveness). They also looked at the stress indicator cortisol and administered a battery of tests on executive functioning when the children were three years old.

They discovered the children received less parenting and had higher levels of cortisol. Stress was higher in the black kids as opposed to the white kids. The higher levels of cortisol were associated with lower executive functioning.

“In sum, early stresses in the lives of children living in poverty affect how these children develop executive functions that are important for school readiness,” said Clancy Blair, professor applied psychology at New York University, who led the study.

Source: ScienceDaily, Child Development

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