One effective remedy for elementary schoolers who present to your office troubled by bullying at school or other negative experiences may be the presence of a best friend to vent to. Not the Facebook kind, but the physical presence of a peer.
In a study published in the November 2011 edition of the journal Developmental Psychology, 103 fifth- and sixth-graders enrolled in Montreal elementary schools kept a journal on their feelings and experiences over the course of 4 days and underwent regular saliva testing that measured cortisol levels. The 55 boys and 48 girls were asked to write about a negative experience that occurred 20 minutes previously and how they felt about themselves at the moment. They also submitted several saliva samples over the course of each day.
The researchers found that when a best friend was not present during an unpleasant event, children experienced a significant increased in cortisol levels and a significant decrease in feelings of global self-worth. When a best friend was present, there was less of a change in the cortisol levels and feelings of global self-worth from the negativity of the experience.
Study coauthor William M. Bukoswki, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Concordia University, Montreal, said the findings have long-term implications. “Our physiological and psychological reactions to negative experiences as children impact us in later life,” he explained in a press release. “Excessive secretion of cortisol can lead to significant physiological changes, including immune suppression and decreased bone formation. Increased stress can really slow down a children’s development.”
Persistent feelings of low self-worth can also adversely affect development. “If we build up feelings of low self-esteem during childhood, this will translate directly into how we see ourselves as adults,” Dr. Bukowski said.
— Doug Brunk (on Twitter@dougbrunk)
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