What do you know about childhood stress?

Today I would like to review the such a wonderful website from Harvard University. The Center’s Global Children’s Initiative from Harvard University has begun to build a portfolio of activities in three domains:

  1. Early Childhood Development
  2. Child Mental Health
  3. Children in Crisis and Conflict situation.

Since I have a background in Psychology, the domain about the child mental health drew my interest much. Mental health concerns constitute a massively under-addressed issue that has significant implication for the broader health and development of children and societies. Since the issue about child mental health is not so easy to detect, sometimes it becomes hidden and untouchable.

There is need to identify the scope of the problem within and across the countries and to develop the evidence-based approaches in policy and service delivery that are responsive to diverse cultural context. To respond to this challenge, the working group of Harvard Faculty is developing an agenda about the research, education, and public engagement to address significant gaps in knowledge and service delivery. The three initial projects are assessing the state of child mental-health services in Shanghai-China, developing and evaluating family-based strategies to prevent mental health problem in children affected by HIV/AIDS in Rwanda and addressing child maltreatment and mental health outcomes in three Caribbean nations (Barbados, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname).

From the smaller scope in the daily life activities, parent and family need to be equipped as well about the mental health for our children. This website from Harvard University leads to a very interesting article about children mental health in Harvard Magazine.

Not every parent realizes how tender the young brain of our children has. How far a parent can go to allow their children to “cry it out” about some matter in daily life without causing the ‘brain damage’?

When parents stress about the wrong kinds of stress, it distract us from a real and grave public health issue. However, is it is easy to be tangled and confused by media reports about stress hurting preschooler.

Here are the three types of childhood stress responses.

1. A positive stress response. For example is the stress a child has when facing a nurse approaching with needle, or stress for the first day of nursery school.  In a kind of stress like this, the stress hormone (cortisol, adrenaline, and epinephrine) are revved up briefly, produce the reactions such as curdling stomach, dampening palms, speeding up heartbeats, quickening breath, setting the brain to high alert- then return to their normal state.

When you see a child become so terrified and cries aloud because of such reason like this, do you think it will create a long-lasting damage to the brain?

A positive stress response is mild to moderate- and importantly –includes the presence of supportive adult who can help the child manage the stress.

 2.  A tolerable stress response by rougher experience such as death of family member, a serious illness, a natural disaster, a bad divorce.

 As with positive stress response, as long as a caring and responsible adult is involve the risk that the cascade of stress hormone will trigger potentially long-term consequences for health and learning plummets.

3. Toxic stress: the stress such as the traumatic experiences in early childhood like neglect and abuse, grow up with parents who are substance abuser, and have no responsible and caring adult in the picture- these are the ones who are at highest risk of suffering the damaging effects of prolonged and frequent toxic stress. The toxic stress like this can change the architecture of the hippocampus in the child’s brain- the part which is very important in memory and mood-and impair skills related to understanding and emotion

I think this information about the children’s mental is very important for parent, teacher even the policy maker to develop a clear understanding of what children stress really means.

There is a world of difference between one young child who cries hysterically because his mother tried to leave him on his first day in the preschool and always come back with smile to pick him from school and one who cries night after night and is never comforted with somebody who loves him.

The key is the support and love from the adult in a child’s life.

Muscat, Sultanate of Oman

April 2012.


Global Children Initiatives Activities. Retrieved from


Tender Young Brains. What Kind of Childhood stress should parent actually be stressing about? By Anna Reisman. Retrieved from



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