In an address to professionals and parents at the Herb Graham Centre in Mirrabooka on Monday, February 10, the Canadian professor said stress levels of children were five times higher than that experienced during the Great Depression.
‘They are the highest stressed generation and that’s why we are seeing an explosion of all these problems ” mental, physical and emotional,’ he said.
‘A child who is highly aggressive, highly impulsive or highly oppositional is a sign that stress levels are too high.
‘The challenge is to work out what stress is.’
As the director of the Milton and Ethel Harris Research Initiative, Dr Shanker has identified stressors and how they could affect a child’s behaviour and wellbeing.
Key stressors included noise, light, movement or frightening experiences that could result in a chronic state of energy-depletion due to the release of adrenalin.
Dr Shanker’s research focuses around self-regulation, a key factor in wellbeing, learning and development.
He said people often thought self-regulation was how children kept control of themselves but that it had nothing to do with self-control.
‘Self-regulation is to do with the deepest part of the brain, the hypothalamus, which responds to stress and is in effect a master switch,’ he said.
‘When that master switch gets overworked you see problems in the child.’
Dr Shanker said those problems could be with a child’s behaviour, mood or even health, which linked back to the hypothalamus and self-regulation.
‘A chronically ill child, a child with allergies or that can’t settle, even a kid with chronic colic ” all these we can now trace back to self regulation,’ he said.
‘Part of the self-regulation journey is to understand what the behaviours are telling us.’