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Doing better by our children to avoid toxic stress

Six-year-old Carolyn Hoagland (C)  laugh

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a major new "policy statement" on toxic stress and its effect on children.

Toxic stress is defined (in contrast to tolerable stress) as "the excessive or prolonged activation of the physiologic stress response systems in the absence of the buffering protection afforded by stable, responsible relationships." 

A growing body of science has shown toxic stress is linked to disruptions of the developing nervous, cardiovascular, immune and metabolic systems, and "disruptions can lead to lifelong impairments in learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health."

Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times parses the issue in one of his recent columns. Today KPCC had Dr. Jack Shonkoff, a Harvard pediatrician who is a leader in early childhood development research, in the office to talk. Shonkoff is also director of Harvard's Center on the Developing Child.

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