The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University has been studying the effects of toxic stress on a child’s brain, and what happens to a child he when he or she is exposed to prolonged periods of tension, stress, neglect, or abuse of any kind; and the findings are devastating.
The expression “children are resilient” should be re-interpreted as“children are re-silent” because it might be more appropriate in some cases….
When children have been repeatedly mis-treated, their means of adapting and surviving has everything to do with how they suppress their pain, and cope with their reality, developing sophisticated ways of interacting with the world that have everything to do with their instinct to stay safe. Children are experts in imagination, and this skill becomes incredibly useful when they are working to overcome circumstances from which they feel they cannot escape. The world of “pretend” is one that all adults can easily comprehend- pretending that everything is ok when it’s not can serve us for a time, until it doesn’t. In the case of children, their ability to pretend everything is ok has a direct correlation to their ability to survive it.
The impact of adverse experiences leaves a child feeling a host of dis-empowered emotions including loneliness, abandonment, frustration, sorrow, anger, and worthlessness.
Children are very adept at “coping” when they don’t have any other choice- and so from exterior appearances, we make assumptions about their well-being that are far afield of the more realistic and lasting behavioral issues that will plague mis-treated children for the better part of their lives.
Learning how to cope with adversity is an important part of healthy development. 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.
This video is part three of a three-part series titled “Three Core Concepts in Early Development” from the Center and the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. The series depicts how advances in neuroscience, molecular biology, and genomics now give us a much better understanding of how early experiences are built into our bodies and brains, for better or for worse. Healthy development in the early years provides the building blocks for educational achievement, economic productivity, responsible citizenship, lifelong health, strong communities, and successful parenting of the next generation. – Center on the Developing Child
Watch this video to gain insight into how the body and brain respond to toxic stress, and please leave any comments in our comment section- we’d love to hear from you!