9.11 Childhood Stress and Development

What is the impact of stress on child development? Children experience different types of stressors. Normal, everyday stress can provide an opportunity for young children to build coping skills and poses little risk to development. Even more long-lasting stressful events such as changing schools or losing a loved one can be managed fairly well. But children who experience toxic stress or who live in extremely stressful situations of abuse over long periods of time can suffer long-lasting effects. The structures in the midbrain or limbic system such as the hippocampus and amygdala can be vulnerable to prolonged stress during early childhood (Middlebrooks and Audage, 2008). High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can reduce the size of the hippocampus and effect the child’s memory abilities. Stress hormones can also reduce immunity to disease. The brain exposed to long periods of severe stress can develop a low threshold making the child hypersensitive to stress in the future. However, the effects of stress can be minimized if the child has the support of caring adults. Let’s take a look at childhood stressors.

9.11.1 Effects of Domestic Abuse

3.3 million children witness domestic violence each year in the US. There has been an increase in acknowledgment that children exposed to domestic abuse during their upbringing will suffer in their developmental and psychological welfare. Because of the awareness of domestic violence that some children have to face, it also generally impacts how the child develops emotionally, socially, behaviorally as well as cognitively. Some emotional and behavioral problems that can result due to domestic violence include increased aggressiveness, anxiety, and changes in how a child socializes with friends, family, and authorities. Bruises, broken bones, head injuries, lacerations, and internal bleeding are some of the acute effects of a domestic violence incident that require medical attention and hospitalization.

9.11.2 Child Maltreatment

Child abuse is the physical, sexual, or emotional mistreatment or neglect of a child or children. Different jurisdictions have developed their own definitions of what constitutes child abuse for the purposes of removing a child from his/her family and/or prosecuting a criminal charge. There are four major categories of child abuse: neglect, physical abuse, psychological/emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. Neglect is the most common type of abuse in the United States and accounts for over 60 percent of child abuse cases.

A child hiding.^[[Image](https://www.jber.jb.mil/News/News-Articles/Article/290797/child-abuse-preventing-a-hidden-crime/) by [Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Alaska](https://www.jber.jb.mil/) is in the public domain]

Figure 9.19: A child hiding.370 Physical Abuse

Physical abuse involves physical aggression directed at a child by an adult. Most nations with child-abuse laws consider the deliberate infliction of serious injuries, or actions that place the child at obvious risk of serious injury or death, to be illegal. Beyond this, there is considerable variation. The distinction between child discipline and abuse is often poorly defined. Cultural norms about what constitutes abuse vary widely among professionals as well as the wider public. Some professionals claim that cultural norms that sanction physical punishment are one of the causes of child abuse, and have undertaken campaigns to redefine such norms. Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent abuses a child for sexual stimulation. Effects of child sexual abuse include guilt and self-blame, flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, and fear of things associated with the abuse. Approximately 15 percent to 25 percent of women and 5 percent to 15 percent of men were sexually abused when they were children. Emotional Abuse

Out of all the possible forms of abuse, emotional abuse is the hardest to define. It could include name-calling, ridicule, degradation, destruction of personal belongings, torture or killing of a pet, excessive criticism, inappropriate or excessive demands, withholding communication, and routine labeling or humiliation. Neglect

Neglect is a passive form of abuse in which a perpetrator is responsible to provide care for a victim who is unable to care for himself or herself, but fails to provide adequate care. Neglect may include the failure to provide sufficient supervision, nourishment, or medical care, or the failure to fulfill other needs for which the victim is helpless to provide for himself or herself. The term is also applied when necessary care is withheld by those responsible for providing it from animals, plants, and even inanimate objects. Neglect can have many long-term side effects, such as physical injuries, low self-esteem, attention disorders, violent behavior, and even death. In the U.S., neglect is defined as the failure to meet the basic needs of children: housing, clothing, food, and access to medical care. Researchers found over 91,000 cases of neglect in one year using information from a database of cases verified by protective services agencies.

In this chapter we covered,

  • The development of self-concept and self-esteem.

  • Erikson’s psychosocial stage of initiative versus guilt.

  • Gender identity, gender constancy, gender roles, and gender dysphoria.

  • Family life, including parenting styles, diverse forms of families, using child care, and the role of siblings.

  • The role of peers.

  • The types of play.

  • The social understanding of preschoolers.

  • Personality development

  • Social and emotional competences.

  • The effects of stress on children, including maltreatment.

In the next chapter we begin exploring middle childhood and how children from 6 to 11 grow and develop.