Lately it seems that we humans are constantly being bombarded with outside stressors. Whether it is the news cycle or the inconsistent weather or personal family drama, these problems can impact us, sometimes at a cellular level. As adults, hopefully we have formulated the tools with which to deal with such issues and pressures, but how did we formulate those tools? And are there varying degrees of how well we deal with stress in our lives? The details reside in the foundations of our childhood.
For years it has been understood that early childhood development, both mentally and physically, is critical in the formation of a healthy human being. Beginning at birth, a baby’s brain along with other developmental factors, is creating 700 new connections every minute. These robust connections determine activity and intelligence as the child grows. Basically more stimulation; reading, singing, playing, interacting, with your child at an early age will determine how well they cope with new experiences and future learning. By third grade, educators know if a child will graduate high school just by evaluating their reading level. So the pressure is on for young parents to make sure their baby is in the right percentile of growth, the right lexicon for reading and overall on target with every other kid the same age.
However, there is a factor that is certainly not new but is now being measured by concerned educators and health professionals; childhood stress. Parental stress during pregnancy and the first years have life-long effects, leaving a lasting biological imprint on a child. Studies show that babies pick up on stress right away. If they do not receive a healthy “share and return” connection of emotion, a baby’s reaction will be one of distress. Continuation of unhealthy “share and return” communications over time will result in difficulty learning, ADD and other childhood mental development disorders. The higher the stress level in a child, the more difficulty they have in adapting to school and handling other stressful situations. If a child lives in “chronic crisis,” such as parents who are always fighting, a single parent constantly worrying about money or other devastating situations, this can create a “toxic stress” that will impede or alter the architecture of the child’s brain.
It is vital to be cognizant as adults, of the stress within ourselves and what triggers that stress. Many times there are situations that cannot be handled alone or are unavoidable but it is imperative not to let your stress spill over on to your child. Kids learn to be who they are from watching and mimicking the adults around them. It is here that they learn how and who they will be in the future.
The majority of the information found in this article is from the documentary called “The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of Our Nation” episode 1 “The Signature Hour” and is part of the Library’s Digital Collection and can be accessed through Kanopy.