Trauma has a long-lasting effect on children. According to Dr. Nadine Burke Harris (a pediatrician and the founder and CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco), childhood trauma and adversity get under the skin. In her book The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, she commented:
“It can tip a child’s developmental trajectory and affect physiology. It can trigger chronic inflammation and hormonal changes that can last a lifetime. It can alter the way DNA is read and how cells replicate, and it can dramatically increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes — even Alzheimer’s.”
Dr. Burke Harris has extensively researched the disastrous repercussions of childhood trauma and adversity. She feels this subject should be openly discussed in health clinics and doctors’ chambers frequently. Most individuals don’t know about the dangers of childhood toxic stress, and that’s bad. There’s a complete lack of awareness amongst the people, and this aggravates the problem even more.
The most causes of trauma and stress are:
- Death of a family member
- Sexual abuse
- Any kind of addiction in the house
- Domestic violence
- Lack of proper foods
- Fights and quarrels in the house
How toxic stress leads to major health issues
Dr. Burke Harris’s research reveals that childhood abuse and trauma can lead to major health problems like asthma, cancer, and heart disease. Childhood trauma can shorten someone’s lifespan drastically. This is probably why she often asks parents of new patients to answer a long list of questions to analyze how much stress children have endured.
Here are a few questions she often asks guardians of the new patients.
- Are you separated or divorced?
- Is there any family member who has schizophrenia or bipolar disorder?
- Has anyone in your family insulted or humiliated your child?
- Do you remember if your kid has seen any violent activity in the house?
Overexposure to scary or traumatic events change the way kids’ bodies and brains are wired. Chronic stress has an adverse effect on brain development, immune system, hormonal system, and the way our DNA is transcribed. These changes lead to lifelong health ailments like cancer, heart disease, and asthma.
Let me explain this more clearly with a simple example:
Imagine you’re walking in your garden and you see a tiger. The first thing that happens is that your brain sends an alarm signal to your adrenalin gland, which creates a stress hormone called cortisol. This affects your heart immediately. Your heart starts beating rapidly, your pupils get dilated, and you make an instant decision – either to run away or fight with the tiger.
Fighting with a tiger isn’t a wise idea because it’s dangerous. That is why the alarm center in your brain sends neurons to another section of your brain that controls your prefrontal cortex. And it says, ‘Do you know something? This is not the time to think. Just observe the tiger’s movements and run away. This is the time for reacting.”
Another important thing that your brain does for you is it activates the immune system. If you fight with the tiger, it may bite you or you may get hurt by his sharp claws. So you would want your immune system to bring inflammation to stabilize the wound, right? Honestly speaking, it makes the perfect sense because you need it to survive an unexpected encounter with a tiger in your garden. If this encounter happens only once, it’s fine. But what happens if this kind of encounter happens several times, especially when kids’ brains and bodies are at a developing stage?
Adverse childhood experiences like physical or emotional negligence, growing up in a family where a parent has mental problems, substance abuse, divorce, etc. can increase the risk for things like cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, heart problems, asthma, etc. These are all long-term medical issues.
Statistics reveal that two-thirds of people have experienced minimum one adverse situations in childhood and 13% have dealt with 4 or more circumstances that trigger stress. Medical professionals feel that there can be other risk factors that causes emotional stress amongst the children. This activates kids’ stress response and change the way how their brain and body functions. Extensive research is happening on this particular subject. Several things can be quite frightening for the kids – like racial violence or discrimination.
Does poverty lead to toxic stress and chronic health issues?
The best way to safeguard a child from emotional stress is to give him a safe and stable environment. A loving parent can act as a buffer in this situation.
Poverty is yet another significant factor that leads to toxic stress. Imagine you’re living in a slum area where your neighbors are mostly uneducated and dangerous. They make nasty comments when they go to the school. Everyday, your kids hear filthy words and physiologically their stress hormones starts changing. Will it be possible for you to safeguard your kids every day? Can you save them from day-to-day trauma?
Debt and poverty lead to brutal fights, quarrels, and emotional stress. Lack of proper foods and a healthy environment create a negative impact on a child. It becomes much more difficult for a caregiver to protect a child. Kids are more likely to be exposed to adversity and the probability to develop toxic stress increases.
After reading the entire article, you must be scared right now. It’s quite understandable. But what can you do as a parent? Surely you would like to give a safe and stable environment for your kids. You would want to build a healthy relationship with your child. But can you protect your child 24*7? Are you willing to accompany your child all the time? Frankly speaking, this is not possible. So what can you do is take your child to a psychiatrist or a psychologist whenever he is stressed or scared due to some events. A general physician can help to cure his health issues. But a psychologist can help to alleviate his toxic stress and a chronic disease in the long term.