We often talk about how a child’s past experiences of violence continue to live in the present, affecting personality and behavior. Now this has been elaborated scientifically through brain mapping, which reveals that physical changes take place in the brains of children who encounter trauma on a continuing basis. Called ‘toxic stress’, the condition arises from relentless exposure to violence and abuse, in which hormones that are normally released in situations of danger, stay on a continuous high, causing changes in the brain architecture. Neural connections intensify in the regions of the brain that involve anxiety, violence and impulsiveness. But in areas largely responsible for reasoning, planning and behavioral control, the neural connections reduce.
Anyone can figure how damaging this can be.
However, the heartening part is that an adult who observes, cares, believes, and inspires a child suffering from toxic stress, can play a big role in helping the child’s brain remold positively. Appreciative and caring inputs seem to buffer the child from continued trauma, thereby stopping the stress, reducing hormone levels, and positively impacting the brain’s neural connectivity.
We have the power to restore their mental and physical health
Five healing gestures can make all the difference:
- Celebrate them with a compliment or by applauding their efforts
- Comfort them by staying calm and patient
- Listen to them and show an interest in their passions
- Collaborate with them by asking their opinions
- Inspire them with new ideas
Detailed guidance on how to handle different age groups and implement these healing strokes in different environments are given in https://changingmindsnow.org/healing
Long term health threats
Center of the Developing Child, Harvard University explains how early adversity “can have a cumulative toll on an individual’s physical and mental health. The more adverse experiences in childhood, the greater the likelihood of developmental delays and other problems. Adults with more adverse experiences in early childhood are also more likely to have health problems, including alcoholism, depression, heart disease, and diabetes.” They are also more likely to resort to suicide. According to Dr Nadine Burke Harris, Center for Youth Wellness, the effects go on for years, and there can be a 20 year difference in life expectancy. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk)
Early intervention is essential. And fortunately, since a child’s brain is ‘plastic’, malleable, we can do it and make a huge difference.