A meeting of a sub-group of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that studies childhood resilience and the effects of toxic stress heard from a number of experts who all urged doctors to practice versions of the same advice--make understanding of the parent-child relationship a priority, and do that by modeling and teaching parents good listening skills. Too many doctors, the group heard, work with stressed out kids (on a rushed timetable, at that) without offering holistic support for the families, which includes understanding the mechanisms of how stress affects parents as well.
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.
It is like a set of Russian dolls. The society values the clinician's time, offering the opportunity to listen to the parent, who listens to the child. And as many at the symposium recognized, it is not just pediatricians, but also child care workers, teachers, home visitors and others who have the opportunity to support stressed parents. All policy needs to be focused on protecting space and time to listen. Listening is not high tech. But it is this space and time, where parents feel safe and valued, that we have the opportunity to grow healthy brains and minds....
....when parents, who may be stressed and overwhelmed, feel heard, recognized and understood, they are better able to do the same for their child. When parents listen to their child, are fully present with their child, they offer the opportunity build resilience and the capacity to manage adversity. It is not about giving information, or even about teaching skills. It is about supporting parents' efforts to connect with their most competent self.
Image: Stressed-out mother, via Shutterstock