Brian Hill MA (Edin) Mar
Stress tends to be thought
of as an adult problem, if not preoccupation these days. For years many
doctors didn’t even recognise its existence. But that’s all changing now
as our knowledge of brain chemistry improves. Today we can give chapter
and verse on what stress is.
Put simply, stress triggers
our fight or flight response, a reactive, automatic defence mechanism
which gives us extra energy to fight or flee any given emergency via a
burst of adrenaline.
Stress manifests itself as
anxiety or secondary tension. Females and young boys tend to be anxious
whereas older males hold their anxiety in check i.e. fake it, leading them
into the more harmful ‘tension’ stage. Which is one reason I’m sure why
males on average live up to five years less than females.
Tension and anxiety in most
children however begins with their parents, especially the mother. Show me
a school failure or underachiever and I will show you an anxious child who
has an anxious mother. The child picks up the tension and/or anxiety from
the parents at a subconscious level.
The following questions now
arise. How does this anxiety affect the child? And, what can be done about
Anxiety can affect the
child in a variety of ways. One obvious example is bed-wetting. Less than
1% of bed-wetters have a physical problem, it’s virtually always anxiety
of some sort of another which creates so much tension that the bladder
cannot be fully opened while the child is awake. When the child sleeps,
that part of the brain which controls the bladder ‘switches off. Muscles
relax and the water flows uncontrollably.
This doesn’t mean that the
anxious child sleeps well, on the contrary, anxiety creates havoc with
sleep patterns and this in turn affects the child’s ability to function
properly. First of all, the child can be tired and listless next day.
Secondly, we use sleep to
make sense of events which happened during the day, that includes making
sense of what we have learned during the day. If we don’t fully assimilate
the days learning, our decks are cluttered for the next days learning and
that makes future assimilation even more difficult. Multiply that over a
period of weeks and months and you can see how easily it is to fall behind
in the learning process.
It’s understandable but
completely wrong to imagine that if someone is failing to pick up the
basics like spelling, tables and reading that they must be lacking in
intelligence. Most learning, especially early learning is done at the
subconscious level via a process known as Ontogenesis. For example, we
don’t learn to speak formally we pick it up as we develop. Equally, other
major players in the learning process also work at the level of the
subconscious, for example belief systems, in this case self-belief and
The expectations of others
affect our own expectations and as you will read in future articles, these
expectations are extremely powerful forces. They can drive us on to higher
things or they can limit us for the rest of our lives. Happily they can
also be altered. The point is they have to be recognised. Unrealistic
expectations, for example parents demanding too much of a child before the
child is ready, will drive up the child’s anxiety ratings which will have
the exact opposite affect which the parent is trying to achieve for the
Recent research by
Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard Psychology Department has identified 8
different types of intelligence in all of us, two on the left side of the
brain, what I call the masculine intelligence and two on the right, which
I call the feminine intelligence. Masculine intelligence is straight line
and sequential in nature, i.e. mechanical. It is relatively simple to
develop and most of its work is already being taken over by computers. The
vastly more complex feminine intelligence is what gives us our humanity
and will never be matched by anything other than a living computer, if
such a thing can ever be devised.
The point here is that left
brain children, especially boys will appear to soar ahead on in the
academic field leaving their right brain counterparts floundering in their
wake. At this point parents, especially left brain fathers might panic.
They begin to put major pressures on their right brain sons to stop being
so ‘lazy’, get some work done and stop messing about with all that arty
farty rubbish, without realising that their right brain sons were
infinitely more intelligent than they were themselves. With the correct
training, i.e. using Wholebrain Teaching methods their children could
easily begin to master the basics and make considerable progress across
the academic map.
Know Your Child
First of all, all humans
are programmed to learn, but we are not all programmed to learn the same
things or in the same way. Indeed, the modern workforce is expected to
continually update its information throughout its working life and this
will be the case for generations to come.
Learning for life is no
longer an empty slogan but a reality. So if your child seems a bit slow at
times, encourage and stimulate by all means, but do not force, panic or
show alarm or you will create growing anxieties in your child which, as we
have seen, will actually prevent your child from learning.
Look for the signs of right
brain dominance. The most obvious is left-handedness. Most left handers,
certainly everyone I’ve ever met, are right brain dominant. Right brain
children tend to be dreamy and unworldly. They will remember tunes better
than words, will be sensitive and intuitive, people orientated and caring.
They are far more likely to be affected by any form of row in the house
than their left brain counterparts, but will be especially hurt and
confused if the shouting is directed at them.
They are delicate flowers
and should be handled with care, loads of love and affection. They thrive
on intellectual and emotional stimulation and the attention of adults. All
children should be treated with respect, but right brain children
especially; they are very perceptive and are not easily fooled; though
they might allow you to think they have been.
Right brain intelligence
wont accept that 4(2a – 3b) + (2d + 3c) = x elephants – 77p unless they
know why and what for, whereas the left brain will happily accept it if
told to and learn the why’s and wherefores later on. Left brain
intelligence is one dimensional and operates in a narrow range whereas
right brain intelligence thinks wide and deep and wants to know
Physical and Emotional Development
Linked to intellectual development and a crucial part of it is the
development of the body and the child’s emotions. Each is linked to the
child’s self esteem and self-confidence and general feelings of self
It is now well documented
that children with low self esteem and poor self confidence are slow
learners. Spoon feeding children and keeping them in a ‘safe’ environment
(the home, the car, at mum’s side wherever they go etc) is actually
killing them physically and emotionally. Never in history have so many
children been overweight or at best, unfit. Never before have children
been so cautious and in many cases frightened about life.
In our efforts to protect
and preserve our children we have in fact been slowly strangling the life
forces in them. This in turn produces stress, which affects the learning
process but more importantly it affects their ability to mature
emotionally. It produces weak men who in turn are less able to help their
own children to develop. We are in the middle of a vicious circle which we
must break and soon.
Dyslexia and its Signs
Finally, a word on
dyslexics and defence mechanisms Most, if not all dyslexics are right
brain dominant, dyslexia being an underdevelopment of the left hemisphere
and a dysfunction between left and right hemispheres. The left hemisphere
organises our thinking and our information, by paying attention to the
details of a subject.
of the signs that your child may be dyslexic to some extent or another:
between left and right.
Difficulty mastering the
technique of tying shoe laces or buttoning coats or shirts/blouses.
Learning anything in
sequence for example: Days of the week; Months of the year; the
Writing d instead of b
and vice versa.
Short term memory
problems (99.9% due to anxiety.)
To combat problems within
their lives your child’s subconscious will develop defences to keep the
trauma of failure to a minimum e.g. ‘laziness’; withdrawal; selective
deafness; defiance; truancy; to name but a few. The Fear of Failure in
itself is a major obstacle to learning. Fear of letting you, the parents
down. Letting the teacher down, letting themselves down in front of adults
they respect and need respect from, and of course, from their peers. They
would rather die than look stupid in front of their peers.
Children can be even more affected by stress than adults can. What’s more
they pick up our stress and develop their own from it. Stress interferes
with the short-term memory, which is electrical in form and very easily
disrupted. It’s housed in the Limbic System and is the brain’s ‘clearing
house’ or control centre. All information flows in and out of the Limbic
System. Stress interrupts the flow of information in and out of the
centre, thus learning and memory is disrupted. It affects all of us this
way, but especially children and especially those very sensitive right
Solution: The Edinburgh Techniques
combat stress in children, Brian Hill adapted and developed two
psychotherapeutic techniques especially for students,
The Magic Garden and
The Study Relaxer. Soon young clients
were being brought to the Edinburgh Centre from all over the UK. The
Magic Garden is a simple but powerful piece of therapy aimed at those
students under 12 years old. The Study Relaxer is for all students from
the age of 12 and over. Either can be downloaded in minutes from the
Edinburgh Techniques site.
Both techniques ware
designed to relax the students, allowing for a good wholesome night’s
sleep. They build confidence and self esteem and generally create the
correct atmosphere for students to learn and assimilate new information
and of course, remember and use information already learned, especially
As a secondary issue, The
Magic Garden also stops bedwetting, nightmares and sleepwalking within 7
to 10 days.
Brian Hill MA (Edin) is an Educationalist,
formerly at the Edinburgh Centre for Accelerated Learning and the Stress
Management Centre in Harley Street, London. He is a specialist in
Accelerated Learning and Stress Management.
In the 80’s he developed a
range of Whole-brain Learning Techniques to help dyslexics and slow
learners who came to his Centre from all over the UK. In the mid 90’s he
wrote the Techniques up and they have been selling ever since over the
Net. From 1997 to Dec 2004 he licensed Classroom Resources to sell his
Techniques throughout UK schools.
Those techniques and more can now be downloaded from the new website:
Points of the Article
1. Stress affects children
even more than adults because they are less able to handle its effects
than we are.
2. Most childhood stress is
caused by adult expectations, adult disapproval, or even parental stress
picked up at a subconscious level by the child. This is particularly true
of boys and mothers.
3. Stress interferes with
signals entering or leaving the brain. Thus learning is a major victim of
stress, especially in children.
4. Children in particular,
need a happy, loving environment in which to learn.
5. Feeding the child’s
physical and emotional needs is paramount to its intellectual development.
6. Signs of stress can
stretch from withdrawal to tantrums in younger children. Tiredness could
indicate broken sleep patterns due to stress.
A happy, supportive,
unconditional loving atmosphere is the best cure for childhood stress.
8. The combination of
Stress, broken sleep, frustration with failure in the learning process and
low self esteem and poor self confidence caused by this failure leads to
can lead to severe unhappiness in the child which can accentuate the
withdrawal symptoms over the years or explode into violent episodes.
One of my earliest clients
was a 12 year old girl from Fife who was in special needs. She had a very
low IQ, as denoted by her low pitched voice and slow speech. She couldn’t
go out on her own. She threw tantrums, wet the bed, had nightmares and
regularly walked in sleep. She was making virtually no academic progress
and the parents were led to believe this was not likely to improve much
over the years.
I adapted a simple
visualisation technique to her needs, The Magic Garden, and made a tape
for her which she played nightly. Within 10 days her nocturnal problems
were over. She had been suffering from acute anxiety which prevented her
from learning; this further lowered her confidence and self esteem. The
Magic Garden tape broke the cycle of anxiety, non learning, low self
esteem etc and allowed her to begin to move forward. That, combined with
other ECAL Wholebrain Learning Techniques, saw her make improvements that
her parents had been told would be impossible by professionals in
conventional educational psychology.
A para from her father’s
letter of March 1998 can be seen in the testimonials page of the website