Pediatricians Urged to Watch for ‘Toxic Stress’ in Kids

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.

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  1. [...] Read the full article here: Pediatricians Urged to Watch for ‘Toxic Stress’ in Kids [...]

  2. by Steph

    On April 28, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Yes. You can hear the toxic stress level. Many psychiatric “disorders” or maladaptions arise from acute stress in infancy. Child reared by a sociopath, acute stress produces a sociopath, and so on, and on. I hope they continue to develop this vein of thought. On occasion I hear a child crying, on rare occasion, and feel sick at the certain sound tenor in their cry, makes me shudder, the utter desolation. We will see.

  3. [...] Toxic stress is chronic, unrelenting stress that can have serious and ongoing health effects on kids (and parents).  More on the AAP’s prescribed “two generation approach” to helping families cope from The Boston Globe: People need to feel safe to be able talk about what is important.  This includes both the clinician and the parent. When the pediatrician feels stressed by a waiting room full of patients that the current system of care demands he must see, he is not able to be present with a parent in the way that careful listening requires. [...]