Toxic Stress. Isn’t that something reserved for the classic Type A personality? The workaholics of the world?

I wish. Toxic stress has been trending a lot on Twitter these days. Arianna Huffington tweets about it. She is tweeting about the relationship between sleep deprivation and toxic stress, our busy-ness, our complete and utter over-use of screen time among other things.

How many of us realize that we bring our stress home to our families? Probably most of us, yet I wonder if we all understand just how it affects our children. I know that I wasn’t aware of my children’s ability to feed off of my stress. This realization hits me like a sucker punch every time I think about it. One way I have dealt with it is to apologize to my college age children, by saying, “I am sorry for all the times I got stuck at the office and was late to pick you up after school. You must have felt so scared, annoyed, angry and all the things I would feel if it was happening to me.”  My son suffers from extreme anxiety like I do…so I know exactly how he felt and I am sure the adrenaline rush to get to his school 40 minutes away from my office, when I was not able to predetermine my office exit, safely and without a speeding ticket…palpable.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris has also been tweeting about toxic stress and its affect on our youngest children. Dr. Burke Harris has an amazing TED talk on the long-term social, emotional, intellectual and physical effects, including disease of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on children.  TED Talk 

According to the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University, “Without caring adults to buffer children, the unrelenting stress caused by extreme poverty, neglect, abuse, or severe maternal depression can weaken the architecture of the developing brain, with long-term consequences for learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health.”

The center goes on to say, “Toxic stress response can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent and/or prolonged adversity–such as physical or emotional abuse, chronic neglect, caregiver substance abuse or mental illness, exposure to violence and/or the accumulated burdens of family economic hardship–without adequate adult support.”

Programs for mothers and infants such as Early Head Start, have long had at their foundation prenatal and post-natal parent education and participants are supported to ensure that their infant attends each well-baby check up. Well-baby check-ups have long had pediatricians listening to heart beats, looking into tiny ears, testing and educating about potential lead exposure: each screening having its place within the framework of early childhood checkups.

Now the American Academy of Pediatrics is advocating that screening for toxic stress become a component of all well baby/child exams. Screening for toxic stress early on can be a means of reducing some of “society’s most complex and costly medical issues from heart disease to drug abuse.”

We’re trying to emphasize that much more important than just listening to a baby’s heart is listening to a baby’s brain.” Robert W. Block MD

Dr. Burke Harris shared a link on Twitter to the following article from the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University, which I share about the importance of listening to a baby’s brain.

Targeting screening for toxic stress at both prenatal and pediatric well-child visits would impact the long-term health and educational outcomes for all children!!