3. Toxic Stress Derails Healthy Development

Uploaded by HarvardCenter on 29.09.2011

Learning to deal with stress is an important part of healthy development.
When experiencing stress, the stress response system is activated.
The body and brain go on alert.
There's an adrenaline rush, increased heart rate, and increase in stress hormone levels.
When the stress is relieved after a short time or a young child receives support from caring adults
the stress response winds down and the body quickly returns to normal.
In severe situations, such as ongoing abuse and neglect, where there is no caring adult to act as a buffer against the stress, the stress response stays activated.
Even when there is no apparent physical harm, the extended absence of response from adults can activate the stress response system.
Constant activation of the stress response overloads developing systems with serious, lifelong consequences for the child.
This is known as toxic stress.
Over time, this results in the stress response system set permanently on high alert.
In the areas of the brain dedicated to learning and reasoning, the neural connections that comprise brain architecture are weaker and fewer in number.
Science shows that the prolonged activation of stress hormones in early childhood
can actually reduce neural connections in these important areas of the brain
at just the time when they should be growing new ones.
Toxic stress can be avoided if we ensure that the environments in which children
grow and develop are nurturing, stable, and engaging.