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  • Writer's pictureStephen Williams

Toxic Stress for Children in Child Custody, Part 1

Stress is something we all experience. We deal with stress at work, with our children, with our relationships, and we do our best to deal with it. We don’t, however, know as much about it as we should. Stress can significantly affect the health of you and your child in both positive and negative ways. Here, we take a moment to reflect on stress and see whether it can be managed better and more effectively, for us and especially for our children.

Research from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, (“HCDC”)

(, identifies 3 kinds of stress:

1. Positive Stress – stress is not always bad for you. It’s stress from exercise that builds muscle and forces your body to operate more efficiently. From a psychological standpoint, stressful (but reasonable and important) situations develop mental resolve and provide us with shared experiences that develop and cement bonds with friends and family. 2. Tolerable Stress – this type of stressor applies to significant situations like the death of a loved one or friend, but assumes that there are positive adult figures in the child’s world to buffer the effect of these situations on the child. 3. Toxic Stress – this is a lot like what it sounds like, and it can significantly affect the child’s health and developing brain. Toxic stress involves prolonged exposure to stressors without the buffer provided by loving, caring relationships with responsible adults. The HCDC identifies several situations which lead to toxic stress: physical and mental abuse, caregiver substance abuse, and economic hardship, among others. Whether considering stress-related disease (immediate and in the future), cognitive impairment, or simply a profound inability to deal with the world as a functioning individual, the importance of addressing these ongoing stressful situations should be clear.

So what does this mean for us in a co-parenting situation? How do we approach this problem in a Child Custody case? Great questions and effective answers would certainly vary depending on each child’s unique circumstances and involve the input of professionals like your child’s pediatrician or counselor. Feel free to skip ahead to Toxic Stress: Part 2 for some basic principles in dealing with stress in child custody situations.

If you’ve found this material helpful, please like or share this article. If you would like to learn more about the team-centered, supporting role our firm plays in helping committed parents and caring relatives like you be effective for their children, can you visit and let us know what’s going on? ~SW, Foxtrot

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