How children can develop toxic stress
Why chronic pressure can harm a child’s growth, and how to avoid it.
If children don't have their needs met, over and over, they will have stress hormones in their body for a long period of time. This is toxic, but can be prevented with proper care.
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Transcript of “How children can develop toxic stress” video
Anna Maria Chiesa, Ph.D.: A child who doesn't have their needs met will go through something that is called toxic stress. For a newborn baby, feeling hungry is a threat to their life. So their perception that something is wrong sets off the crying alarm. If the baby has an adult who can tell what the crying means and tend to their needs, the baby will develop a memory of satisfaction.
The levels of stress hormones go down and the cycle goes on. A child who is not satisfied will have stress hormones in their body for longer periods and this is toxic. Little by little, the child becomes irritable, lethargic, they lose weight, they lose brain synapses. The branching process that enables the contact among different areas of the cerebral cortex will be damaged in a child living under such conditions.
Joan Lombardi, Ph.D.: Well, a toxic environment is a very serious thing for children, it's an environment full of stress. You know, children have radar, they know when there are arguments between parents, when there's tension in the home, when they're seeing violence in the community.
These are toxic for the development. When they are growing up in intensive situations of violence or the opposite of that, which is neglect. All of these things are toxic to their healthy growth and development.
Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D.: The children whose development is at risk are children who live in very difficult circumstances. Not a bad day here or a bad day there, but chronic, constant days, weeks, months, years where there's very little positive interaction, where the level of stress is so high, particularly for people in deep poverty, or in violent environments, or dealing with serious mental illness, like depression or substance abuse.
Where there's no time left to think about next week or tomorrow. It's trying to get through the day. And where the home may be very disorganized, not because parents don't love their children, but they're overwhelmed by their own life circumstances.
Pia Rebello Britto, Ph.D.: Every parent wants the best for their child. And they want to create an environment that will foster their children's growth and development. Oftentimes as societies, we fail to support parents in that function. We fail to support parents in providing them the support they need for their children. That's when we start to immediately see a sort of child's toxic environment building.
Dr. José Martins Filho: When you are able to provide the necessary care for children to develop, you are certainly preparing a better child for the future. It will reduce violence, neuroses, anxieties, school issues, difficulties to get a good job, a good relationship. Dealing with children with care during such period means striving to improve society. It's a way to protect humankind.