Friendship Helps to Reduce Childhood Stress

28 October, 2011 at 08:11 | Posted in Body & Mind, Children, Science | Leave a comment
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By Marieke Vos-Zweers
Epoch Times Staff

Fourth graders have lower stress levels when experiencing peer exclusion if they have good friends, according to new research from the Netherlands.

Children get stressed due to exclusion, and victimization, such as gossiping and hitting. However, the effect is diminished if victims have at least a few good friends. Even having one good friend can reduce the loneliness children experience while suffering hardship caused by their peers.

Social rejection is known to cause stress in preschoolers, adolescents, and adults. The new study from Radboud University Nijmegen investigated stress and bullying in more than 100 fourth-grade schoolchildren, aged 9 years old. Friendships and a child’s group status are particularly important at this formative age.

The children’s stress levels were determined by measuring their cortisol levels five times on two consecutive days. They chewed on wads of cotton wool twice at home in the morning, when arriving at school, at the end of the school day, and at home in the evening.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that mobilizes energy levels and helps us cope with stressors. Levels are naturally high in the morning, and then diminish during the day.

However, the daily cortisol cycle flattens due to long-term stress as a result of the fight or flight response, and can have negative effects on health, particularly immunity.

The findings are part of the Longitudinal Study of Nijmegen (NLS) and are published in the journal Child Development.

Marianne Riksen-Walraven, who founded the NLS in 1998, spoke with The Epoch Times by telephone.

She explained that children who were excluded more had higher cortisol levels and a flatter daily curve, indicating long-term stress.

However, children who were victimized did not show raised cortisol levels, suggesting that victimization is not as stressful as exclusion.

Meanwhile, children who were excluded more but had a few good friends showed lower cortisol levels compared to rejected kids with fewer friends or poor quality friendships, indicating that friendship helps children deal with exclusion.

When asked about upcoming research, Riksen-Walraven said these same children are now 12 years old and are participating in another NLS study.

Riksen-Walraven thinks it will be interesting to study how rejection affects these children’s minds as they grow up, because recent research involving brain scans on adults who are collectively disliked shows that it hurts in the same way that physical pain does.

“Together, the results demonstrate that although friends cannot completely eliminate the stress of exclusion at school, they do reduce it,” Riksen-Walraven said in a press release.

“And the number and quality of children’s friendships can serve as a buffer against being rejected.”

via Friendship Helps to Reduce Childhood Stress | Science | Epoch Times

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