Children Build Resilience to Beat Toxic Stress


OAKLAND, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — We’re more than ready to talk about the stress in our lives, but is it true for our kids as well? Most experts say ‘yes’ and that stress is not just over homework. Half of children have faced at least four traumatic events in their young lives and it can reach toxic levels. Ivanhoe visits a northern California hospital that’s allowing kids to be kids through innovation.

At ten and eleven, brothers, Mickel and Malachi King are in tune with themselves in a way that most adults haven’t achieved. Deep breathing and meditation are part of their daily routine. But, it wasn’t always that way.

Iesha James, Mickel and Malachi’s Mom shared, “Mykel and Malachi were dropped off at my doorstep. They were one and two at the time.”

Iesha decided to raise her cousin’s children along with her son.

”I was unaware of what type of issues they would have, you know PTSD, separation anxiety,” continued Iesha.

Dayna Long, MD, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland stated, “I think that the boys had been in the emergency department ten to fifteen times for their asthma. They were really difficult to console.”

Once at the hospital, the boys were diagnosed with toxic stress.  In other words, they were in crisis.

“That child could end up with a number of diseases, disease processes, or be set up for those diseases because all that stress has no place to go,” explained Karen Daley, MA, Licensed Marriage/Family Therapist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland.

Instead of more trips to the ER, the boys enrolled in a clinic that teaches how to build resilience by spotting the source of their stress and learning how to cope with it.

“So that those kids grow up not just acting out but actually aware of their bodies and their minds and their different states,” continued Dr. Daley.

“One of the tools that I learned was the meditation so that calmed me down a lot,” Malachi shared.

Mickel said, “When I’m having a bad day, I just close my eyes for about five seconds and just belly breathe.”

“I see the boys now and they are so strong and vibrant. That is extraordinary,” Dr. Long exclaimed.

Stopping toxic stress one kid at a time!

According to an earlier landmark study, 64 percent of the population has been exposed to at least one significant adversity in their childhood.  That is enough to initiate toxic stress in us.  As a result, more hospitals and clinics across the country are screening for warning signs in children.

Contributors to this news report include: Jennifer Winter, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; and Rusty Reed, Videographer.

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REPORT #2602

BACKGROUND: Most Americans are suffering from moderate to high stress, with 44 percent reporting that their stress levels have increased over the past five years. Concerns about money, work and the economy top the list of most frequently cited sources of stress. Fears about job stability are on the rise, with 49 percent of respondents citing such fears as a source of stress. Stress is also taking a toll on kids. Almost a third of children reported that in the last month they had experienced a physical health symptom often associated with stress, such as headaches, stomach aches or trouble falling or staying asleep. In addition, parents don’t realize their own stress is affecting their kids. While 69 percent of parents say their stress has only a slight or no impact on their children, just 14 percent of youth say their parents’ stress doesn’t bother them. Stress is a special problem for the third of young respondents who reported being slightly or very overweight. Overweight children worry more than normal-weight children.


COPING WITH STRESS: Kids deal with stress in both healthy and unhealthy ways. And while they may not initiate a conversation about what’s bothering them, they do want their parents to reach out and help them cope with their troubles. Tell your child when you notice that something’s bothering him or her. If you can, name the feeling you think your child is experiencing. Ask your child to tell you what’s wrong. Listen attentively and calmly with interest, patience, openness, and caring. Avoid any urge to judge, blame, lecture, or say what you think your child should have done instead. Many younger kids do not yet have words for their feelings. If your child seems angry or frustrated, use those words to help him or her learn to identify the emotions by name. If there’s a specific problem that’s causing stress, talk together about what to do. Encourage your child to think of a couple of ideas. Sometimes talking and listening and feeling understood is all that’s needed to help a child’s frustrations begin to melt away. If certain situations are causing stress, see if there are ways to change things. Kids don’t always feel like talking about what’s bothering them. Sometimes that’s ok. Let your kids know you’ll be there when they do feel like talking. As a parent, it hurts to see your child unhappy or stressed, but try to resist the urge to fix every problem.


BREAKTHROUGH STUDY IN LIFE STRESS: Childhood stress increases the chance of developing anxiety, depression, or drug addiction later in life by two to four times, while stress during pregnancy may increase the child’s risk of developing autism spectrum disorder, as well as several other psychiatric illnesses. Scientists are discovering more about the mechanisms through which childhood or fetal stress disrupts brain development and leads to these disorders, which may reveal new therapeutic strategies. New findings show that in a mouse model of autism spectrum disorder caused by maternal infection during pregnancy, renewing fetal brain immune cells alleviates symptoms of the disorder. Stress before or during pregnancy can alter gut bacteria in women and mice, which in the mice reduces critical nutrients reaching fetuses’ brains. Early life stress changes chromatin structure in a brain reward region in mice, making them more vulnerable to stress as adults. Early life stress accelerates the development of the fear response in young mice, but the effect can be prevented by blocking stress hormone production. “Understanding how stress impacts developing biological systems may lead to new, patient-specific approaches to treatment and better outcomes,” said Heather Brenhouse, PhD, of Northeastern University.


* For More Information, Contact:

 Melinda Krigel, Media Relations/UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital

mkrigel@mail.cho,org, (510) 428-3069