This post was done in partnership with Stress Health, an initiative of the Center for Youth Wellness, but all opinions are my own.
Can how you were raised have an impact on you as you grow and develop?
There are three main types of stress we deal with in life: positive stress, tolerable stress, and toxic stress.
Positive stress is our body’s normal response to normal stress. An example of this for a child would be starting a new preschool or taking a test at school. Both situations can cause stress, but it is good stress and through it, we learn how to face life’s stressors.
Tolerable stress is our body’s response to more serious stress. A few examples are a scary injury, a big move, immigration, or living through a natural disaster. In these situations, a flood of powerful stress hormones helps children rise to the occasion. If a caring and trusted adult is available to them, the adult can offset these emotions to help a child calm down.
Toxic stress is our body’s response to severe and/or lasting stress such as emotional or physical abuse or neglect—without support from a caring and trusted adult.
If toxic stress is left unaddressed, the results can be tragic. Toxic stress can affect growth, learning, behavior, immunity and even genes. Kids with a high dose of adversity without a caring adult to support them can face a lifetime of higher risk of heart disease and cancer. Powerful stress hormones overwhelm the child’s body and brain, resulting in lifelong issues with mental and physical health, as well as behavior.
After learning about these negative impacts, I realized the importance of dealing with my past childhood experiences. And I am working to change the things I was taught to help my kids not be affected by toxic stress in such a negative way.
Parents are the key to overcoming toxic stress
Parents are the key to helping change negative cycles and provide healing. When parents provide a loving, caring support system, they can reverse the effects of toxic stress. The main thing that causes toxic stress to intensify is when children don’t feel safe. Giving children a safe place even while dealing with adversity and challenges can change how they view and deal with stress. Making special time for your children, ensuring they get enough play and exercise and creating secure routines for family meals and bedtime are among the things you can do to make your children feel connected and safe.
In my experience, I have found group therapy to be a great way to help overcome my past demons. I am on a path toward healing and know that it will change the outcome of my children’s lives.
Maybe you have felt toxic stress or worry that your children have experienced toxic stress. How do you know if your kids need help or are at risk to have lifelong complications from toxic stress?
Noticing Toxic Stress in Your Children
If you as a parent notice your children are having trouble sleeping, regular headaches, persistent tummy aches, crying more than normal or being extra clingy, they may have been exposed to toxic stress. While these are not the only symptoms, they could give you a clue that your child is experiencing some sort of toxic stress or trauma in their lives. Since toxic stress is linked to traumatic Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), you can take the quiz here for clues that your child is suffering from toxic stress.
You are not alone
Nearly half of children in the United States are affected by potentially life-altering traumatic experiences. It is far better to be aware of the risk and know the signs instead of ignoring the possibility that your child may need help.
As parents, we may be struggling with our own experiences and do our best to shield our own children from such trauma, but that doesn’t mean that we can or will be able to protect them. When we know the signs of toxic stress and provide a secure safe place for children to talk about their experiences, it can be life-changing.
Parents can change the tide in dealing with and overcoming toxic stress. Learn more about toxic stress and its effects here.