Last month I introduced you all to the different types of stress one can experience, and how to determine if your child is experiencing toxic stress. Stress is there and a part of our lives, but it’s how we deal with the stress that really matters. Toxic stress is another story and can be damaging to our growing kids (and us), so with the help of the Stress Health initiative of the Center for Youth Wellness, I’m sharing tips for preventing toxic stress in your kids.
As a reminder, toxic stress is 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. Most Americans will experience at least one ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience), which ramps our stress response into overdrive. Because we don’t want these powerful stress hormones to affect the mental and physical health as well as the behavior in our children, we want to do all we can to prevent this kind of stress.
Tips for Preventing Toxic Stress In Your Kids
1. Be consistent and offer continual support so your children feel safe. A strong sense of security helps protect against or even reverse the effects of toxic stress. If your child is crying a lot, try some different tactics instead of saying “stop crying!” Work on building your relationship with your kids by reading together, playing together and cooking together.
2. Make sure your children are being offered a healthy diet. A well-balanced diet provides the body with important nutrients to combat illnesses and give our minds the boost they need to handle stressors.
3. Encourage physical exercise, whether it be through play, walks, or an exercise regimen. Exercise helps the body release endorphins, which are “feel good” chemicals that interact with receptors in the brain. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling and help reduce the perception of pain.
4. Have a regular bedtime and ensure your child is getting a good night’s sleep. Nobody feels super when they’re not getting enough sleep. This starts with a regular bedtime routine.
5. Practice mindfulness by helping your children learn to be aware of their surroundings, their thoughts and sensations, without any judgment. Try teaching them to meditate and/or breathe deeply when they’re feeling anxious about anything.
6. Offer counseling and mental health support when needed. Make sure your children know they always have someone to talk to about their feelings, whether it’s you or a professional. Let them know it’s okay to be sad sometimes.
If you practice all of these things, you can help prevent and heal toxic stress in your kids. You may not be able to control all stressful situations or protect your children from them, but these factors can help lower the stress response and help your child regain their health and vitality. Visit StressHealth.org for more information, and take its ACEs test to see if your child might be experiencing toxic stress from Adverse Childhood Experiences.