The Power of Parents and Caregivers
Today, more than ever, we know the importance of the early years in shaping children’s health and development. Early childhood is a time of dramatic changes in a child’s brain and other organ systems. Between birth and age 4, children's brains are rapidly adapting to the environment around them.
But not all children have the opportunity to experience enriching early childhood experiences that will have positive effects on their health and development in the short and long-term. During these critical developmental years, many children are exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. ACEs are traumatic experiences that can have a profound impact on a child’s developing brain and body. Chronic exposure to ACEs, without a buffer or intervention, can lead to toxic stress and lasting consequences on a person’s health throughout his or her lifetime.
The groundbreaking study in this area, published in 1998, found that adults with four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences had 2.6 times the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease compared with individuals with no such experiences. ACEs measured in the study included physical, emotional and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; and household dysfunction resulting from mental illness, family member incarceration, domestic violence, substance abuse and divorce. Adverse Childhood Experiences also heighten the chance of obesity, stroke, cancer, asthma and diabetes, and multiply the risk of hepatitis, depression and heart disease.
The good news is that there are ways to prevent and treat the negative effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences and toxic stress, and parents and caregivers have important roles to play.
A young child's parent or caregiver is the best shield against the effects of toxic stress. The quality of a caregiver's interaction with a child is a key building block for healthy emotional, social, and physical development. When a caregiver is able to help the child makes sense of the world, manage difficult feelings and develop healthy coping skills, toxic stress can be prevented.
Some of the best ways to support a child's health and development involve simple things like talking, laughing, taking time to play with a child one-on-one and just slowing down to spend time together.
Every child deserves to grow up in an environment that promotes health and early learning. Parents and caregivers create strong bonds in the early years to help their kids build a strong foundation for healthy and thriving futures.
To learn more about the effects of toxic stress on children’s health and development, please read our white paper, An Unhealthy Dose of Stress.
To learn more about what we are doing to mitigate the effects of toxic stress on children’s health and development and learn what you can do to help, visit our website: http://www.centerforyouthwellness.org/how-you-can-help/