Starting school can be stressful, research shows
The Sector > Research > Understanding Children > Starting school can be stressful, research shows

Starting school can be stressful, research shows

by Freya Lucas

January 08, 2019

Children find the transition from early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings stressful, and that these stress effects are visible three to six months after starting formal schooling, a comprehensive literature review of previous longitudinal research studies has found.


The literature review addresses four questions:


  • Is there an increase in cortisol concentration that coincides with the transition from ECEC to school?


  • Is there evidence of recovery (i.e. a decrease in stress response over time) and how long after the transition is this observed?


  • Are there individual differences in the increase and decrease of cortisol which may impact on the results?


  • What are the consequences of an increase in cortisol levels, associated with the transition?


Ten studies in this topic were found during the review, with eight independent samples reviewed.


The literature review concluded that most children demonstrate a rise in cortisol during the transition phase, however increased cortisol is not always associated with negative stress.


Authors of the study recommended further research, finding three main issues that need to be addressed in order to understand which factors predict the individual differences, and what the long-term consequences of the stress exposures are.


Apart from further examination of how children’s individual differences, such as temperament, might contribute to differences in their cortisol response, researchers recommended a better understanding of how the school and family environments may best support children during this challenging transition in order to develop or encourage school or community initiatives that would be tailored to children’s needs.


The full literature review can be read in full here

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