What is Toxic Stress?

The toxic stress response can occur when a child experiences strong, frequent, or prolonged adversity, such as physical or emotional abuse, without adequate adult support.

Risk Factors for Toxic Stress

Risk factors for children who may go on to develop toxic stress include (but are not limited to):

  • Maternal depression
  • Caregiver substance abuse or mental illness
  • Domestic violence
  • Poor social connectedness
  • Food scarcity or other economic hardships.

While not all children who experience these conditions in childhood go on to have difficulties later in life, they are certainly at risk. Some children have buffers in place to offset the stress in their lives. Pediatricians are being encouraged to screen families for risk factors of toxic stress and to provide community resources as appropriate to ensure that these buffers are in place. If your family is in crisis and you are concerned that your child is at risk, perhaps an honest talk with your child’s pediatrician is a good place to start in getting the help your child needs.

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