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Signs Your Child Is Experiencing Toxic Stress

Signs Your Child Is Experiencing Toxic Stress
Written by Emily Buys

Signs Your Child Is Experiencing Toxic Stress

The past couple of months have been filled with a lot of stress and angst for Keith and me, which has gotten me thinking about how stress affects our kids. Our kids know when we’re stressed and whether they vocalize it or not, it affects them. I was recently contacted by Center for Youth Wellness and thought it was a very timely partnership because between getting divorced, remarried, custody battles and having an unhealthy relationship with the children’s biological father –  my kids have been through a lot. Before I get to some signs your child is experiencing toxic stress, I thought I would introduce the different types of stress one could be facing.

Types of Stress

Signs Your Child Is Experiencing Toxic Stress

Positive Stress

  • Our body’s response to normal everyday stress, like starting a new daycare or taking a test at school. This is an unavoidable type of stress that everyone faces on a semi-regular basis. During these periods of stress, our stress hormones help the body do what’s needed in the moment, but once the event passes, our body goes back to its normal state.

Tolerable Stress

  • Our body’s response to more serious stress like a scary injury, immigration, or living through a natural disaster. Our body produces powerful stress hormones that could be crippling, but with the presence of a caring adult, a child can cope much easier. A trusted adult can help calm the child’s stress response and help build resilience for future incidents.

Signs Your Child Is Experiencing Toxic Stress

Toxic Stress

  • 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. This type of stress is not as common, but most Americans will experience at least one ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience). Depending on life circumstances it may not be avoided, so how you handle the toxic stress is extremely important. These powerful stress hormones can affect mental and physical health, as well as behavior.

Toxic stress can create lifelong issues so it’s imperative you take note of any signs your child is experiencing it and handle the situation with care. My next post will go more into detail on how to prevent toxic stress, but for now here are some signs your child is dealing toxic stress. Don’t ignore any warning signs because as I mentioned previously, long-lasting toxic stress can create health concerns and even lessen life expectancy by up to 20 years.

The video below teaches more about the health effects of childhood trauma.

Signs Your Child Is Experiencing Toxic Stress

Signs Your Child Is Experiencing Toxic Stress

Pay attention to any changes in your child’s behavior. Some behaviors will vary based on the age of your child, but some issues to take particular notice of are:

  • Sleep issues
  • Frequent headaches or tummy aches
  • Crying more than usual
  • Regressing to bed wetting or baby talk
  • Developing new fears
  • Clinginess
  • Poor coping skills
  • Behavior and learning difficulties
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep issues
  • Overeating and other compulsive behaviors
  • Fear and anxiety triggered by places or people that remind them of past trauma

If you notice any of these changes in your child’s behavior, then know that there are resources out there for help. You can always consult with your doctor! StressHealth.org is full of wonderful information, so I highly recommend reading up on coping with toxic stress and Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Signs Your Child Is Experiencing Toxic Stress

In my next post about toxic stress, I will be talking about ways to prevent toxic stress in your kids. Then I will discuss parenting through your own adverse childhood experiences, because parents come with their own story and it can flow over into our kids’ stress if we’re not careful. With more awareness, hopefully, we can heal ourselves and learn how to best help our kids.

About the author

Emily Buys

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