I just listened to an Innovation Hub interview with Dr. Jack Shonkoff director of Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child (you can listen to this interview by clicking on the link). The core of this interview discusses the long term effects of toxic stress.
Dr. Shonkoff suggests that everyone knows how it feels to be stressed. Your heart is pounding, your blood pressure is up, and you feel a rush of adrenaline. Now, imagine feeling like that all the time. For many children living in unstable home environments that feeling is a reality and that kind of constant stress has some serious health implications.
Effect on the Body
“That can have a real wear and tear effect on the body if that level of stress is present a lot of the time,” he says, “particularly for a young child whose brain is developing, whose other organ systems are maturing and developing.”
Dr. Shonkoff, who is also professor of Child Health and Development at Harvard School of Public Health, in the interview discussed the “wear-and-tear” effect of toxic stress (chronic stress) on the body—how it can accelerate aging, lead to disease, and disrupt brain development. In young children, much of the delicate brain circuitry develops between ages 3 and 5, so “not doing anything before age 4 for children at greatest risk is a huge mistake that we pay a tremendous price for later. The key to overcoming these chronic stressors is boosting positive, predictable interactions between children and their caregivers.
Effects on School
Not only are these children more prone to conditions like hypertension or heart disease, but they’re also less likely to develop skills that are essential to succeeding in school, like paying attention and following directions. That means that when many children begin attending school for the first time, a gap has already opened up between students with unstable home environments and their more well-off peers.
Another good video that this interview led me too was a forum discussion titled “The Toxic Effect of Early childhood Adversity”. It is one hour in length and next time I will summarize the core of it. If you would like to view it now please click on the link. If you would like to read more about the Centers work with toxic stress please click on the link provided.