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The #ChildrenCanThrive  campaign seeks to transform our response to the public health crisis of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their long term effects.

Join the #ChildrenCanThrive Campaign so all children grow up happy and healthy.

Ebony Magazine: Reaching Out and Helping Kids Cope in a Violent World

Jan 30, 2017

Most of what the mental health providers look to do is get to the heart of students’ “toxic stress.” In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report that examined the role of early life toxic stress in shaping one’s health across a lifetime. Researchers define toxic stress as frequent or prolonged adversity without adequate adult support. Risk factors include neglect and abuse, extreme poverty, family violence, substance abuse and parental mental health problems. Studies show young children who experience toxic stress are at high risk for a multitude of health issues in adulthood, including cardiovascular and obstructive lung disease, cancers, asthma, autoimmune disease and depression.

However, pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris, M.D., MPH, FAAP—whose talk on how trauma affects health across a lifetime is one of the most popular TED Talks, with nearly 2.5 million viewers—says that although the prognosis may appear dire, there is hope.

“There’s an abundance of research showing us that as humans, we actually have the ability to buffer each other’s stress responses,” says Burke Harris, founder of the San Francisco-based Center for Youth Wellness. “It turns out that witnessing violence on the street if your parent or caregiver is healthy, intact and able to make meaning for you out of what’s going on is much less damaging to kids than witnessing violence in the home where you don’t have a caregiver who can be a buffer. In cases where the caregiver is healthy, we see that the child’s brain and body are able to recover and we don’t see the long-term harm,” she adds.

This is why Burke Harris stresses the importance of caregivers putting the proverbial oxygen masks on themselves first.

“There are six things that the science shows us makes the most difference in helping to heal a deregulated stress response,” she says, breaking down the steps to self-care. “Sleep, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness-like meditation, mental health and healthy relationships are all critical,” Burke Harris says. “Those six things help to regulate our stress hormones and enhance neuroproclivity, which is the ability of the brain and the nervous system to recover from harm.”

And harm for Black and Brown children, coupled with the criteria researchers call adverse childhood experiences—physical, emotional or sexual abuse; physical or emotional neglect; growing up in a household with a mentally ill, substance-dependent or incarcerated parent; parental separation or divorce or domestic violence—can also take the form of discrimination, community violence and foster care, all of which can impact children’s developing brains and bodies, Burke Harris says.

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About Center for Youth Wellness The Center for Youth Wellness is part of a national effort to revolutionize pediatric medicine and transform the way society responds to kids exposed to significant adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress.

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