Preventing Toxic Stress

Preventing TS 5Stress is a normal part of life, and it can motivate people toward reaching goals. However, it can, especially in young children, hinder mental, social, brain, and personal development since humans are not born automatically instilled with the most productive ways to deal with stress.

What is toxic stress? An informative place to start is (CDCHU) Center on the Developing Child/Harvard University.  The definition provided there is…“While moderate, short-lived stress responses in the body can promote growth, toxic stress is the strong, unrelieved activation of the body’s stress management system in the absence of protective adult support. Without caring adults to buffer children, the unrelenting stress caused by extreme poverty, neglect, abuse, or severe maternal depression can weaken the architecture of the developing brain, with long-term consequences for learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health.”

Stress is our body’s reaction to being overstimulated, feeling threatened, overwhelmed, being uncomfortable with new places and people, and stress can be brought on by too much excitement too. If stress is not managed properly, it has the potential to lead to a damaged immune system and lifelong health issues so says the Psychology Foundation of Canada. Tantrums, nonstop crying and whining, violent outbursts, a relentless sense of being tired and withdrawn, headaches, trouble eating/sleeping, bad habits like biting nails, hair twisting, and sucking thumbs have the potential to develop if toxic stress is left to wreak havoc upon a child—a child who wants to trust family members and teachers.

The Psychology Foundation of Canada emphasizes, “Preschoolers can handle stress better Blog kids 2when they have a healthy, balanced lifestyle with good food, lots of time for physical activity, play and relaxation, and daily routines that make their world feel predictable and safe.”

Negative Impacts from Stress

Mental Development

If everyday stress and/or chronic long term stress are left to simmer without intervention, logic tells us ABCs, 1-2-3s, and all other knowledge needed to mature travel a longer, rougher terrain to get inside of a child’s mind. If a child is stressing over a bully waiting for him/her outside on the playground, or stressing about his/her mother’s reaction to a teacher’s note, basic survival kicks in. The ABCs and 1-2-3s pale in comparison.

Social Development

If everyday stress and/or chronic long term stress persist, undesirable behaviors might manifest, like becoming that bully on the playground, tantrums, inflicting self-harm, loud outbursts, or a child shutting down to become anti-social is a real possibility. It’s crucial for strategies, routines, and action plans be in place that children are aware of to decrease the chances of stress damaging their social development.

Personal Development

If everyday stress and/or chronic long term stress become too acceptable for a child, what personal goals will be disregarded because surviving is more important? Maybe a child desperately wants to learn to read, but constant teasing about it feeds a negative message about school, so that child gives up. Parents, teachers, and caregivers can reduce stress so children feel safe in their environments, safe to learn.

Toxic stress can be prevented through awareness, education, and resources made available to anyone in need of them. Keep in mind…

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that “many adult diseases should be viewed as developmental disorders that begin early in life and that persistent health disparities associated with poverty, discrimination, or maltreatment could be reduced by the alleviation of toxic stress in childhood.”

  • Risk factors for children to become exposed to toxic stress “include examples of multiple stressors (eg, child abuse or neglect, parental substance abuse, and maternal depression) that are capable of inducing a toxic stress response (AAP).”
  • Stress-induced alterations in the design of a child’s developing brain can have possible permanent effects on a range of important functions “such as regulating stress physiology, learning new skills, and developing the capacity to make healthy adaptations to future adversity (AAP).
  • “Impaired parenting—defined as harsh, inconsistent, or indifferent parenting—is known to be related to poor developmental and emotional outcomes in young children, says the National Center for Children in Poverty.
  • Resources like Prevent Child Abuse America, National Center for Children in Poverty, The American Academy of Pediatrics, The Psychology Foundation of Canada, school counselors, social workers, and child welfare programs can assist parents/caregivers, teachers, and the community to protect children from toxic stress.

The more parents/caregivers understand about the development of children, the better equipped they will be to get their children off to a good start. Pediatric doctors, schools, child welfare programs, and the community all have the potential to impact this issue. Take time to learn about toxic stress, and then spread the word!

Please feel free to comment, and share this post.

Thanks for visiting the Noracast!

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14 thoughts on “Preventing Toxic Stress

  1. I worked with preschool children in my high school day care. A few of them were constantly being yelled out by their parents. The yelling never did help fix the issues. I tried to (tactfully) handle the situations, but reading this article makes me think the parents could have benefited from parenting classes. It is news to me stress at such high levels can affect a child’s brain maybe forever.

  2. At Troy Gymnastics, I was an instructor for about 1.5 years working with the children ages 6-14 and mostly girls. You can see how they interact with not only you as a coach but the other children. Some of the kids would do something wrong or make a mistake and instantly look at you for the repercussions. Yelling, screaming, and making a fit at the kids never helps the situation. I figured that out pretty quickly. Helping the kid with a normal or soft voice and friendly actions always makes for a better instructor, coach, and even as a parent.

  3. Good writing ,and very true. In this age of divorce, drugs, grandparents raising children, poverty, unemployment, it is easy to not be a good parent. How to fix this I do not know.

    • Being a good parent is quite a challenge in this chaotic world. Thank heavens support is out there, but I fear not enough people know where to find it. Hopefully, this project will reach some folks interested in managing stress. I appreciate your comment!

  4. Unfortunately, stress has become a status symbol. People brag about how busy and full and “stressed” their lives are, when really they are under a lot of toxic (and unnecessary) stress. This trickles down to the children, who are leading more stressful lives. Stress has a definite impact on children’s growing bodies and brains.

  5. The stress does, indeed, trickle down, and what a shame it does. Childhood should be a wonderful time of a person’s life. You make a good point…too many people are under stress that could be avoided. Time management goes a long way and really looking at daily schedules to see what is needed and what is not helps too. So happy you spent some time at the Noracast. Thank you!

  6. I think it is interesting the connections that you draw between childhood trauma and adult problems. More research is needed in this area, maybe in the future there will be more understanding of broken adults from hurt children.

    • Thanks very much for your comment! “…broken adults from hurt children.” Wow.
      That sure does sum up what toxic stress is capable of doing. You are correct about
      needing more research on this topic as well. Let’s hope lots
      of awareness prompts support and interventions to stop it.

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