This post is in partnership with Stress Health, an initiative of the Center for Youth Wellness. All opinions are my own.
Stress is something that a lot of us deal with regularly. From making sure we’re attending to our family’s needs while not falling behind on deadlines at work, stress has become a problem that we have to deal with daily.
Stress, though, is not something that is limited to adults. Kids deal with stress, too. As parents, we should know how to detect whether our kids are dealing with stress overload. We have to be vigilant about this because if we don’t, our children’s physical, mental, and emotional health could be harmed, especially if they are dealing with toxic stress.
Unlike milder forms of stress, toxic stress is linked to trauma, especially trauma that occurs without the buffer of a protective, comforting adult. This stress is both severe and prolonged. When toxic stress is not addressed, it may cause problems to your child’s physical, mental and emotional health. It may cause them to have more trouble learning in school, prevent them from having healthy relationships with the people around them and even increase their risk of chronic disease.
The link between ACEs and toxic stress
There are 10 ACEs ( Adverse Childhood Experiences) that a landmark study linked to toxic stress and a child's current and future health.
1. Physical Abuse
2. Emotional Abuse
3. Sexual Abuse
4. Physical Neglect
5. Emotional Neglect
6. Mental Illness in the Household
7. Mother Treated Violently
9. Incarcerated Relative
10. Substance Abuse in the Household
Other ACEs that may cause toxic stress include bullying, racism, poverty, neighborhood violence and a father being treated violently, according to later research. The website Stress Health discusses the signs and symptoms of toxic stress:
Signs of toxic stress in young children include:- sleep issues
- frequent headaches or tummy aches
- crying more than usual
- being extra clingy
- bedwetting or going back to baby talk
- developing new fears
Signs of toxic stress in school-age children and teens include:- poor coping skills
- behavior and learning difficulties
- mood swings
- sleep issues
- overeating or other compulsive behaviors
- fear and anxiety triggered by people and places that remind them of the past
Toxic stress can happen anytime during your childhood. If you suspect your child may have toxic stress, you can take this quiz to better understand.
Boosting resilience in your children
You can help your children heal from toxic stress by listening to them and comforting them when they are hurt, frightened, stressed or sad. Creating daily family routines – eating together (with the phones off), tossing a ball outside, and bedtime rituals like reading a story together – helps children feel secure and connected.
Sadness may be an emotion that your kids don’t know how to deal with. It is important that you, as parents, know how to explain to them what sadness is and comfort them as they deal with it.
Kids spend most of their day at school, and you may be surprised to find out just how much stress kids deal with there. Be quick to recognize whether your kids are getting stressed with all their school-related activities or there is something larger at work. If you want to take their mind off all the stressful school work -- or if they are just bored -- don’t let them sulk inside their room. Instead, encourage your kids to go outside, spend a day in the park and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Kids deal with stress. They shouldn’t have to deal with toxic stress on their own, however. It is our responsibility as parents to be there for them and guide them so that they will not have to suffer the negative effects that stress brings.