Type to search

Children Going through Trauma? Learning about Toxic Stress Will Help Them Heal

Children Children's Health Healthy Living Parenting

Children Going through Trauma? Learning about Toxic Stress Will Help Them Heal

Is Your Kid at Risk of Lifelong Effects of Toxic Stress?

This piece is sponsored by Stress Health, an initiative of the Center for Youth Wellness, but the opinions expressed are my own.

Like adults, children suffer from everyday stress. Getting homework done is a good example.  Many children also experience toxic stress from childhood trauma such as abuse, neglect or separation from their parents, which can impact their health for the rest of their lives.  Toxic stress and everyday stress are not the same thing:  Toxic stress can have lifelong effects on a child if nothing is done.

Two years ago my children and I went through a difficult, life-changing event.  My ex-husband left. And when I mean left, he left and had no contact with the kids, and the contact he had with me was angry.  He wasn’t the loving father the kids had known, and he was doing things that kept him from his kids.

Is Your Kid at Risk of Lifelong Effects of Toxic Stress?

The kids didn’t exhibit any behavior changes until about a year after their father left, then things changed. My youngest daughter went from being a social butterfly who was confident, always singing and talking, to being distant.  She stopped singing and never really seemed happy. It scared me and broke my heart to see her so damaged.  My older daughter’s changes were harder to see, but they were there.

My older daughter is really my stepchild, but I’ve raised her since she was three because her mom passed away.  When her dad left, he left her with me, and I’m thankful he did. It wasn’t until I started researching toxic stress that I realized her changes were simply less noticeable.  She has been dealing with toxic stress since before I was really in the picture.

Not long after I started learning about toxic stress and reaching out to get my children help, my sister got arrested. Everything hit me like a ton of rocks.  My sister suffered from childhood trauma she never got help with; she has major issues coping and dealing with stress. She’s had mental issues and addiction issues all her adult life, and it all stems back to her childhood.  I remember my mom always telling me how she wishes she would have known sooner and pushed my sister to get help, which made me realize the impact toxic stress can have on a child for the rest of their lives.

Is Your Kid at Risk of Lifelong Effects of Toxic Stress?

Is Your Kid at Risk of Lifelong Effects of Toxic Stress?

Toxic stress is serious. I’ve seen with my own eyes what it can do to someone who doesn’t get help. I also know how toxic stress can follow people nto their adult life.  It’s not a chance I’m willing to take with my children, especially as we have so much more information available to us now than my mom did when my sister was little.

The good news about trauma such as separation from a parent and other Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is that there is a lot we can do to help our children.  The sooner we act, the more we can do and the better the outcome. But before we can offer help to our children, we have to know what toxic stress is and whether our child is at risk for ACEs.

Is Your Kid at Risk of Lifelong Effects of Toxic Stress?

What is toxic stress?

Toxic stress is caused by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are damaging events that can be life-changing for a child. It can affect everything from behavior and learning to growth and immunity.

Children who are exposed to high doses of adversity such as abuse with the buffering of a loving adult may experience the ripple effects for the rest of their lives. These children are at greater risk for cancer, heart disease, depression, lung problems and other chronic illnesses later in life; they’re also more at risk for smoking, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, obesity, and a shorter life expectancy.  However, there are things we can do to protect our children and help them heal.

So how do we know if our child is at risk for ACEs?  First, you need to know if your child has suffered from any life-changing events.  Here is a list with a few (not all) life-changing events that may cause toxic stress:

  • Physical and/or emotional abuse
  • Physical and/or emotional neglect
  • Sexual abuse
  • Witnessing a mother being treated violently
  • Substance abuse by a family member
  • Incarcerated family member
  • Mental illness in the family
  • Divorce
  • Abandonment

As mentioned, people who have experienced ACEs are at higher risk for depression, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses later on in their lives.


Know your own stress health

The trauma experienced by my sister in her childhood wasn’t created by my parents.  We were lucky to have had a great childhood and caring parents, but so many others are not.

As parents, we need to think about our own childhood trauma as well. It’s important to understand your own trauma so you can start on the process of healing, too.

Parents with ACEs can find it more difficult to stay calm in situations that normally wouldn’t bother other parents. This is because the constant stress experienced as a child affected how your body learned to respond to stress to keep you safe.

If you understand your own childhood trauma and take steps to undo it, you’ll be better able to help your child. Plus, did you know parents who have suffered serious childhood trauma are more likely to have children who miss developmental milestones or experience some behavioral or mental illness?

Toxic stress symptoms

Parents know their kids best, and it’s important we pay attention to determine whether our children exhibit toxic stress symptoms.  Here are a few (not all) symptoms of toxic stress:

  • Poor coping skills
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep issues
  • Overeating or other compulsive behavior
  • Behavior issues
  • Learning issues
  • Fear and anxiety that is triggers by people or places that remind them of the pasT

When a child experiences toxic stress it can be difficult for them to pay attention, learn or even sit still.  You may even notice behavior issues or that they have trouble thinking before they act.

To see if your child is at risk for ACEs, visit the Stress Health website and take the 10 question ACEs Quiz.

As mentioned, people who have experienced ACEs are at higher risk for depression, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses later on in their lives.

Take the ACE Quiz to see if you or your children are at risk for toxic stress

Even though the ACE Quiz is not a medical diagnosis, it gives you a starting point and can help medical providers have a better understanding of a patient’s risk for toxic stress response.  After taking the ACE quiz, I suggest speaking to your healthcare provider about your concerns. They can help you with treatment options or recommendations for the best outcome for your child.

I’m not sure how my kid’s story will end, but I am doing everything I can to help them, including making sure they have enough sleep, exercise, and eat well.  I want to do everything possible to help them grow up to be healthy adults.

Is Your Kid at Risk of Lifelong Effects of Toxic Stress?

Learning about toxic stress and how I could help my kids was the best thing I could have done.  I’ve seen major improvements. I’m seeing them come back to life. I know the work isn’t over, but it’s such an amazing feeling to see them smiling and laughing again.  Plus, their father recently came back into their lives. He is healthy and acting like the loving father he was before he left. He and I  will not get back together, but I’m grateful he’s changed his ways and stopped doing the things that were keeping him from his kids.

I know not every story has a happy ending, and not all parents come back into a child’s life.  I can’t tell you what tomorrow holds for my kids, but I will say I will never hesitate to do anything I can to make sure my kids have the best childhood possible. I want them to have all the right tools to become a healthy adult.  Something I’ve learned through all this is that children carry more than many of us realize, and your smallest actions can have a huge impact.

It’s up to us, as parents and caregivers of the beautiful young lives entrusted to us, to do everything we can to help our children recover from life-altering events.  You can start now by taking the ACE Stress Health Test to see if your child is at risk for toxic stress, it’s 10 questions and could be the changing point your child needs in his or her life.

Join the Movement! Together, we can help families move past adversity in healthy ways!

To learn more about toxic stress and take the ACE Quiz, visit StressHealth.org.


I have a smart mouth, don't sit still well, extremely opinionated, have a lot to say, work hard, love lots, don't have time for drama, or negativity. I love animals, & my job as a New Mexico mom blogger! I love sharing travel adventures, tech gadgets, recipes, parenting struggles (success), crafts, helpful tips, giveaways and sweepstakes, product reviews, and more.  I have amazing 4 children, and have an amazing boyfriend. On my downtime, you'll find me spending time with my family, traveling, cooking, geeking out on tech, plotting the next home improvement, create crafts with the kids, and riding my horses We are plotting our move to greener pastures, with trees, and stuff. Connect with me on Google + Page.

  • 1

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *