The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement this week urging pediatricians to ask questions--and listen carefully--to identify warning signs that children are suffering under "toxic stress," a chronic stress condition that can have serious health implications later in life.
Toxic stress is different from everyday stress, as it is the result of prolonged exposure to intensely difficult situations, such as abusive or neglectful family relationships, poverty, or parental substance abuse or mental illness. Health conditions including mental illness, obesity, diabetes and heart disease are linked to toxic stress.
The Boston Globe's child development blogger, Dr. Claudia M. Gold, argues that the new statement should be seen as a call to respect--both with time and wages--the work of primary care physicians, particularly pediatricians, as they can be the first line of defense in identifying and easing toxic stress:
As a culture we need to value the primary care clinician, not only in the form of payment equal to the more lucrative subspecialties, but in the form of recognizing the role of relationships in healing. It makes sense that if we are recognizing the importance of family relationships in preventing poor health outcomes, that we should recognize the importance of doctor-patient relationships in supporting these families.
When primary care clinicians take time to carefully listen to stressed parents, parents feel supported in their efforts to carefully listen to their children, thus promoting healthy development. In turn, our culture needs to support and value primary care clinicians ( and its not only pediatricians, the subject of this policy statement, but all those entrusted with primary care of children.)
Image: Upset child, via Shutterstock.