David Code, Episcopal minister, father of two and author of Kids Pick Up on Everything: How Parental Stress is Toxic to Kids, explains why when it comes to children’s health, the real toxin is your tension, because kids pick up on the “vibe” you give off.
How your anxiety affects your kids
Why do you say when it comes to children’s health the real toxin is parental stress?
David Code: More than chemicals in our food, or pollutants in the air, the greatest toxin our kids face today is stress, because kids pick up on everything. Research shows that parental stress is a major risk factor in the epidemic of child disorders we see today.
Do children “catch” their parents’ stress?
Code: Kid soak up the tension in their household until their fragile, developing nervous systems hit “overload” and then they act out or develop symptoms. This is most prevalent when kids are young — even beginning in the womb. There is research showing that stress hormones cross the placenta just like nicotine or alcohol affects the child’s development.
The stress switch
How can a parent’s stress cause health problems in kids such as allergies and sensory disorders?
Code: Children today are born with an overactive stress-response, which can make them overly-sensitive to stimuli or overly-emotional — common characteristics in disorders like ADHD, learning disorders or sensory disorders. Or, some kids’ immune systems are more sensitive to stimuli in the environment and they may be prone to allergies or asthma.
Scientists have discovered a kind of “on-off switch” in our genes, called the epigenome. In a child’s developing brain or immune system, even small amounts of stress can switch on genes that cause illness, or turn off genes that prevent illness. Therefore, the unprecedented stress levels of today’s parents are impacting our children’s health more than we ever imagined possible.
How can parents keep their stress from having a toxic effect on their kids?
Code: Socialize! Humans are social animals and we need to get back to the herd. The more time you spend with family and friends the better you will feel. Invite your friends over with their kids, get involved in community organizations, go for walks, turn off screens, exercise and spend quality couple time with your spouse.
How do you deal with stress when you’re around your kids? Any tips on how to live healthier and less stressed? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.