Toxic Stress

Toxic stress is what children are prone to when they are exposed to an ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience). There are many types of ACEs yet they all have some level of negative impact on children and their development. The accumulation of several ACEs can have extremely negative impacts on a child’s development and their health creating unnecessary challenges later in the child’s life.

Fast Facts

1. If a child experiences 7- 8 ACE’s in their lifetime, they are at a 3:1 odds of having heart disease as an adult.

2. ACE’s can cause people to die 20 years earlier than those who have not experienced ACE’s.

3. Within a person’s life, they are likely to experience ACE’s. Already two thirds (64%) of adults have at least experienced one ACE in their lifetime.

4. When children experience 6-7 ACE’s there is a 90-100% chance of developmental delays.

In Depth Look

Not all stress is detrimental to childhood development, some stressors allow for the child to grow and learn. However, other stressors have seriously damaging impacts on children and their development, especially when they are exposed to the stressor for extended amounts of time. The positive stress response is part of normal, everyday life, think of when a toddler meets a stranger and hides behind their mother out of shyness. Positive stress is a healthy part of childhood development because the child knows they can trust their mother to protect them when encountering someone new and nonthreatening. Tolerable stress is temporary stress, it activates the body’s response system for a short while. This stress is tolerable because it’s fleeting and often times children are able to seek support with their caregivers in order to cope. Lastly there is toxic stress which refers to continuous and persistent stressors that a child has to face on their own without any support from their caregivers.
Toxic stress can occur because of any number of ACE’s and can have harmful impacts on the child’s health, social and emotional abilities, as well as their overall development. Many things count as an ACE, anywhere from parents getting a divorce to facing abuse as a child. The accumulation of multiple ACE’s is particularly dangerous for children’s emotional and mental development as well as their health later on in life.

Harvard: Developing Child
University of Minnesota: Project for Babies
The Science of Early Childhood Development

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention