Toxic Stress

Toxic Stress

Imagine your greatest fear.  Don’t sugar coat it.  Really think about what gives you chills.

An intruder entering your home.  Drowning (one of mine).  Being abducted.  I’m sorry about going to some dark detail here.  I really am.  I’m normally optimistic and delightful.  But I need you in context with me.  We’re going down a rabbit hole.

When you’re in the middle of conflict, your body goes into “Fight or Flight” mode.  Your muscles tense.  Your adrenaline starts pumping.  You’re either going to face your fear or start running.  It’s something amazing our body does.  It’s a good thing.

However, it’s not a good thing to be in this mode every week, let alone everyday.  Your body gets disrupted.  Your brain is affected negatively.  It’s a good mode to be in when you need it, but it’s not one you want to live in.

Sadly, there are children who are in this mode. Every. Single. Day.  For the purpose of this post, we just get to think or imagine our fear.  That level of stress we’re feeling is imaginary or temporary.  But there are children who are constantly in this state of mind.  And, sadly, the fear and stress are coming from people the child has relationships with.

Sometimes, it’s from an adult, like a parent, sibling, or relative.

Maybe their neighborhood.

Their teacher, perhaps?  I hope not.

For whatever reason, they are in this adrenaline-fueled status more than they should be.  They are living in stress, or better known as toxic stress.  Here’s what you need to know:

Toxic Stress: Children’s experience of intense, frequent, and/or prolonged anxiety such as abuse, neglect, violence, or economic deprivation without adult support to help them cope.

What if you couldn’t escape your fear?  Every night, an intruder would break into your house.  Every morning, you wake up under water.  And every day, you look over your shoulder because, today, with certainty, you’ll be abducted.

Again and again and again in a never-ending, inescapable cycle of fear and fright.

There are children living these lives.  Their brain is permanently affected.  Their ability to learn, develop, maintain relationships, handle emotions… all of that are negatively affected.  The child will be hindered for life.

Moral of the Story: Early childhood educators, more than anything, should have positive relationships with their students.

Children who have positive relationships with an adult – including teachers – are better able to handle stress.  Moreover, children who are in positive relationships learn better, they play, and their brain positively develops.

When children walk into school, it’s a place that needs to be safe and nurturing.  For some kids, your classroom may be the only place where they feel cared about – or even feel loved.

If you care about your student’s learning, then a positive relationship should be foundational to your pedagogy.  A child’s brain is better engaged and able to learn under optimal conditions and emotions.  Furthermore, if a child is going through stress or are experiencing a challenging, emotional situation (like a death in the family, divorce, or something else) then they are better able to get out of “Fight or Flight” because they have an adult who can help them.  That’s you.

For professionals who have been in the field for awhile, we’ve all had the child who needed that extra care and comfort.  There are children that we wished we could put in a different situation, because we know their home life is challenging.  One of the best things you can do is foster a nurturing relationship with that child.  Their brain will thank you.

P.S. If you would like more information about this topic, watch this TEDTalk about Toxic Stress.

P.S.S. My next post will be more positive.  Promise.  But, thanks for going on this journey.  Sometimes, we need a little push.

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