By Leslie Davis
Experiencing a number of childhood stressors can harm the development of a child's brain and nervous system, leading to life-long health problems and diseases - and even premature death.
A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine determined that children exposed to six or more "adverse childhood experiences" (ACEs) were at twice the risk of premature death compared to children who had not suffered those experiences. The study was based on questionnaires given to more than 17,000 adults who visited Kaiser Permanente between 1995 and 1997, and looked at the long-term effects of the following ACEs:
"Overall, 1,539 people died during follow-up," said David W. Brown, D.Sc., the study's lead author and an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "People with six or more ACEs died nearly 20 years earlier on average than those without ACEs. It is also disturbing that two-thirds of study participants - persons who were relatively well off - had at least one of the ACEs."
Children at the highest risk lived to an average age of 60, while those who were low risk lived to nearly 80, according to the study.
"It is important to understand that consequences to childhood trauma can extend over an individual's life," Brown said.
Depending on your situation, minimizing the stressors in your children's lives may be difficult. If you are going through a divorce or separation, it is hard to not have this stress effect your children. Certain life events, such as a death in the family or a traumatic accident, are unavoidable. The best thing you can do for your children in any of these situations is to make sure to talk to your children about the event and let them express their feelings about it however is best for them.
Other childhood stressors are more in your control. If you are in an abusive relationship or have a substance abuse disorder or mental illness, be aware that you are having a deep affect on your children. Though your children may brush these things off or pretend that they are not affecting them, they likely are. And the only person who can do something about it is you. So get out of that abusive relationship (as hard as it may be) or seek treatment for your substance abuse or mental illness. Not only will you feel better, but you increase the chances of your children having a significantly improved life.
Ways to Keep Your Children Stress-Free
Not all childhood stress is related to traumatic events. Sometimes your children may be stressed out from a problem with friends, too much homework or an overly busy schedule of school and extracurricular activities. Here are some ways to help your children minimize stressors and stay stress-free:
While you won't be able to eliminate stress in your children's lives, there are things you can do to decrease the amount of stress your children deal with regularly. Take responsibility for your actions that are causing your children stress, and do what you can to help them learn to manage their stress.