Reports & Working Papers

Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain

Content in This Guide

Step 1: Toxic Stress 101

Step 2: The Science and Social Causes of Toxic Stress

Step 3: Preventing and Addressing Toxic Stress

This working paper from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child defines the concept of “toxic stress”—what happens when children experience severe, prolonged adversity without adult support. It discusses how significant adversity early in life can alter a child’s capacity to learn and adapt to stressful situations, as well as how sensitive and responsive caregiving can buffer the effects of such stress.

The paper also suggests how to create policies that minimize the disruptive impacts of toxic stress on young children. Some suggestions include making affordable expert assistance more available to caregivers who may not have sufficient knowledge and skills to help young children exhibiting symptoms of toxic stress, and aiding existing intervention programs to better address the effects of toxic stress by incorporating training and expertise in the identification of young children with serious, stress-related, mental health problems.

Suggested citation: National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2005/2014). Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain: Working Paper No. 3. Updated Edition. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.

Working Paper 3 cover

Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain: Working Paper No. 3

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