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Children Show Signs of Stress Long Before School Starts

Stress response to entering primary school is temporary for most children

TUESDAY, Sept. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Children entering primary school have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol months before school begins, U.K. researchers report in a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Julie Turner-Cobb, Ph.D., of the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, and colleagues compared cortisol levels, parent questionnaires and child-health diaries, and 74 teacher questionnaires involving 105 children three to six months before entering primary school in September 2004 or January 2005.

The researchers found unexpectedly high cortisol levels in the children months before entering school and as school started. However, shy children had lower stress levels than outgoing children.

Although high day-long cortisol levels may lower children's immune response, the researchers discovered that children with elevated cortisol levels throughout the day had less cold and flu risk the following half-year, but more illness risk during school holidays than other children. Cortisol levels for some children stayed high at follow-up, suggesting a need for continued monitoring.

"More extroverted children had consistently high levels of cortisol and their levels tended to remain high throughout the day, possibly because their more impulsive nature gets them into more confrontational situations," Turner-Cobb said in a statement.


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