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Improved interactions with teachers 'can reduce stress in nursery pupils'

08/12/2016 Joanna

New research has indicated that the quality of interactions between teachers and nursery-aged children can have a major impact on young pupils' overall stress levels.

The study, carried out by Oregon State University in the US, represented the first piece of research to ever examine the relationship between teacher-pupil interactions and a child's levels of the hormone cortisol - a key marker of stress - in an early childhood education setting.

A total of 70 teachers and 113 children participated in the study, which saw the participants divided into three groups, with one continuing their normal routine, while the second took part in dedicated sessions where teachers and children would play together in a one-to-one environment, without any specific guidance or instructions.

The third group, meanwhile, took part in more formalised one-to-one sessions designed to foster sensitive, responsive interactions between the teacher and the child. Key aspects of this included allowing the child to lead the play sessions, carefully observing and narrating the child's behaviour, describing their positive and negative emotions, and encouraging the teacher to make themselves available as an emotional resource.

When measuring cortisol levels in the children, it was shown that members of the second group experienced declines in stress during the school day compared to the first group, while the third group saw the greatest benefits of all.

Overall, the researchers concluded that warm and caring interactions should be considered vital in fostering a positive bond between teachers and young children, leading to long-term positive outcomes.

Lead author Bridget Hatfield, an assistant professor at Oregon State University's college of public health and human sciences, said: "The big message here is that positive relationships between teachers and students matter. What a teacher does in the classroom - the way they behave, their positivity and supportiveness - has an enormous impact on the children and their health."

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