Lori Hudson Bertrand DC, RN
Stress is virtually impossible to avoid. Doesn’t it seem like it’s become a “normal” state of being. In some shape or form, stress has a way of taking hold of us, transforming who we are, how we function, and even our capacity to live life to the fullest. For most of us, when we think about stress, we focus on job responsibilities, family, kids, or even caring for aging parents. But how many times do we stop and consider the stresses our children go through and just exactly how they are affect by it? As we will see, stress starts at a very young age and can have detrimental affects on development, function, and more.
I’m sure you’ve experienced that moment in your child’s life where he’s happy one second (I say second because that’s really how fast they transition) and then devastated the next. For example, he’s balling his eyes out because the shirt on his favorite stuffed bear, came off and he can’t seem to get back on. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but in his mind, it’s the end of the world. We often think that children “don‘t understand” the kind of stress we as adults face, but in all actuality their stress is real and can even begin before birth.
Not all stress is created equal. Some stress can be good for the body and mind. A new mother can experience stress too. One can worry if they are doing everything correctly, all the way from eating the right foods to using the right lotion so they don’t get stretch marks! While a heightened awareness of the stresses around us can be beneficial, a continual occurrence at this state can take a toll on the body and life growing inside. Continual stress can throw off the body’s balance and ability to function optimally. In utero, the baby can experience stress from the mother. Stress hormones are able to pass the placenta and reach the baby. Studies show that maternal enzymes can protect the baby from excess exposure to stress hormones at crucial stages of development, resulting in a partial barrier.1 These protective enzymes from the mother naturally decrease as the pregnancy progresses, allowing more stress hormones to pass the placenta. This ensures that the baby is exposed to enough cortisol levels for lung maturation, brain development and more. Therefore the mother naturally regulates how much and at what time, throughout the course of the pregnancy, protective enzymes are secreted. So, later in pregnancy stress hormones are necessary and beneficial for the baby, but evidence shows that early on in pregnancy an extraordinarily high level of cortisol can cause a risk for developmental delay and more.
A handful of studies have evaluated the affects of excess cortisol from the mother on a developing baby. Prenatal exposures to excess levels of stress hormones have been correlated to fearfulness early in life, increased fussiness, and emotional as well as behavioral disturbances that have the potential to continue into adolescence. Furthermore, some research links prenatal stress exposure to delayed neuromotor and cognitive development.1 While some studies have linked the correlation between prenatal exposures to stress and fetal developmental delays, every pregnancy is unique and generalizations are difficult to make.
Stress in children
Ok, just take a step back for a moment. Do you remember what middle school or even high school was like? Pressure to look, act, and perform the part. Some of you may not want to go back there! Stress is real at an early age; it’s just applied in different areas of life.
Stressors in young children
- Excessive stimulation (television, computers, video games)
- Over scheduling
- Family dynamics (blended, single, working families)
- Pressure to “live up to,” perform or behave above a certain level
- Exposure to violence (real or perceived)
Stressors in teenagers (including the above mentioned)
- Insults to self-esteem
- Failing an exam
- Uncertainty about future paths (declaring a college, major)
- Conflicts with peers, teachers and parents
So, are you tense, uptight, and stressed out to the max? If your children felt this way, what do you tell them? Maybe something like…take a breather, let’s talk about it, calm down, or you’re ok? Easy to say right, but hard to apply, after all children don’t know “real stress.” Think again! In part three of this series we will look at learning difficulties, behavioral problems, and other health conditions that have been linked to excessive stress in children.
Bottom line- remind yourself that a child’s stress is real and just as important as yours!
DEFINE’s senior instructor and anatomy specialist, Lori Hudson Bertrand D.C., R.N. is a doctor in chiropractic and registered nurse. Her love for helping people through education about anatomy and physiology drives her to continue to share her experiences and knowledge with others as they pursue their journey towards health and restoration!
1 Davis, E., Sandman, C. (2010 January) The Timing of Prenatal Exposure to
Maternal Cortisol and Psychosocial Stress is Associated with Human Infant
Cognitive Development. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of
Health. Retrieved from
2 V. Tennant. (2005 September) The Powerful Impact of Stress. John Hopkins School of Education. Retrieved from http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/strategies/topics/Keeping%20Fit%20for%20Learning/stress.html