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  • Writer's pictureStephen Williams

Toxic Stress for Children in Child Custody, Part 2

In part 1, we discussed research the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (“HCDC”) had conducted on toxic stress in children. In part 2, we will now be discussing stress in child custody situations and how to better handle those stressors.

  1. Caregivers and the Courts in child custody cases sometimes err in focusing on more readily observable issues. A failed drug test might be easy to prove, but, upon further examination, does this identify a drug problem that really results in stress for the child? Maybe so, maybe not. Focusing on the child’s experience, rather than simply trying to win your case, will lead to far better results for your child’s development.

  2. Protecting your child from all stress is (a) impossible and (b) something to actively AVOID. Encourage a child to set goals and engage in healthy competition, whether it’s tee-ball, chess club, having the cleanest room in the house or a perfect score on next week’s math quiz. And, when things don’t go the child’s way, don’t freak out and blame the referee or the teacher, just be there to listen to your child or, better yet, provide positive opportunities to let off some steam (kids don’t “talk” stress as much as adults; they “do” stress) See, also, the Play Therapy link below.

  3. Determine whether a stressful circumstance involving yourself or a co-parent is (a) a one-time occurrence, (b) a harmless habit, i.e., a battle not worth fighting, or (c) an ongoing issue with a profound effect on the child. A practical way to tell the difference is to ask yourself a few questions like whether there are observable and concerning changes in the child’s behavior/personality or a downturn in physical health identifiable by your child’s pediatrician. The mere statements of the child without more, are not great evidence and, even worse, encourage “spying” or even lying behaviors by the child.

  4. You are there to love and nurture, not treat and certainly not to fight your battles alone. Put a team together to be effective for your child. Make sure your pediatrician knows about possible stressors in the child’s life and is a member of the American Academy of Pediatricians, Also, seek out a Registered Play Therapist credentialed by the Association for Play Therapy, Lastly, retain an attorney that can formulate all of this information into an effective strategy for addressing these stressful circumstances and, if necessary, present this information to the Court of competent jurisdiction.

If you’ve found this material helpful, please like or share this article. If you would like to learn more about the team-centered role our firm plays in helping committed parents and caring relatives be effective for their children, message us or email us at

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