Signs of Toxic Stress in Children


Stress Health

In partnership with Stress Health, an initiative of the Center for Youth Wellness.

In my last post, I talked a little bit about my childhood and how I experienced toxic stress. Toxic stress is a more intense type of stress — chronic, prolonged stress that provokes an overactive stress response that may lead to the development of chronic illnesses. It is something that can affect you throughout your life even though the trauma it’s linked to was experienced only during childhood.

I fortunately don’t have any major lingering effects from toxic stress in my childhood, but that is not the case for everyone.  While I still have issues with things like stress and anxiety that stem from my childhood, it could be a lot worse than that.

I don’t talk much about my childhood. But given all the kids in toxic situations and adults who’ve experienced toxic stress, I’d like to share a bit now.

One of my first memories is of being brought to my grandmother’s house in a police car.  I remember curling up in the back seat and falling asleep. It is an intense memory and something that really stood out for me in my childhood. As a child, I struggled for years with nightmares and anxiety, even though I was provided with counseling. I remember waking up completely terrified, but fortunately, I had my grandmother to care for me.

I’m glad I don’t remember much from that time. To be honest, I have put those bad memories behind me. I had a healthy upbringing with my grandmother and my life changed drastically for the better.  I have had people tell me they would never guess that I had such a rough childhood.


There are varying levels of stress, and toxic stress can leave a child with long-lasting negative effects.

The Center for Youth Wellness is a great resource for learning more about stress health. According to its Stress Health website, these are signs and symptoms of toxic stress:

If you notice your child is having sleep issues, frequent headaches or tummy aches, crying more than usual, becoming extra clingy, regressing to bed wetting or baby talk, or developing new fears, it could be related to toxic stress.

In school-age kids and teens, common signs of toxic stress include:

  • Poor coping skills
  • Behavior and learning difficulties
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep issues
  • Overeating and other compulsive behaviors
  • Fear and anxiety triggered by places or people that remind them of past trauma

I personally went through a number of these when I was a child, from nightmares to high anxiety. I would hide under the bed and was scared of a lot of things. I remember bringing my blanket and sleeping at the foot of my grandmother’s bed at night. But I immediately improved when I went to my grandmother’s nurturing home.

Toxic stress can even affect things like your growth, the health of your immune system, your heart health, and more – not just your emotional health. It is important to see the signs of toxic stress in children so that you can work with your doctor on interventions if possible.

For more detailed information about Stress Health, created to support families and individuals dealing with adversity and toxic stress from childhood through adulthood, visit the Center for Youth Wellness.

Check out its resources for parents at:

By | 2018-12-21T12:39:08+00:00 November 1st, 2018|Family, Parenting, Safety|37 Comments

About the Author:

Busy blogger and mom of two girls! We love traveling and the great outdoors, and are always looking for our next adventure!


  1. candy November 2, 2018 at 11:37 am - Reply

    Most children go through some type of stress hopefully it is not a bad situation at home. Often times now it is bullying, either on line or at school. Girls seem to be the worse and will always be sometimes even as adults.

  2. Amber Myers November 2, 2018 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    I try to always be there for my kids when I see they are stressed. Sometimes going on walks helps to clear their minds.

  3. Jessica Goodpaster November 2, 2018 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    We have to watch out for our kids’ mental health and stress is a big factor. Thanks for explaining this for us!

  4. Alli Smith November 2, 2018 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    I never knew about the different types of stress until you explained it all. It’s so important to watch our kids for signs of stress.

  5. Melissa Chapman November 2, 2018 at 1:24 pm - Reply

    It is so important to look out for the signs of stress in your children. I have not seen these in my kids but they are older now and have their own stressful situations.

  6. Jeanette November 2, 2018 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    I try really hard to keep my kiddo from being stressed out. I know sometimes it’s unavoidable but I hope I am never the cause of it.

  7. Nikka Shae November 2, 2018 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    I talk to my kids about getting stressed out. I just had a situation with my daughter about this. My poor baby was stressed out with a substitute teacher just the other day.

  8. Sarah Bailey November 2, 2018 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    This is a great post – I think parents need to read this and be aware of the signs and symptoms, it could really help a lot of children.

  9. Theresa November 2, 2018 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    I don’t think we realized that kids get stressed out as much as us adults do. It’s important to to monitor this behavior and look for these signs so you can help them as early as possible.

  10. Gisele November 2, 2018 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this post. I’ve experienced several of those things growing up. Thankfully I went to a psychologist many years ago and worked those issues out.

  11. Dana Rodriguez November 2, 2018 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    Stress management is very important but I never really thought about kids having it. This is a very interesting post!

  12. Leta Elliott November 2, 2018 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    Goodness, how awful. Childhood can be so hard in bad situations. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Tonya Wilhelm November 2, 2018 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    I think stress is an under talked about health issue. Thank you for talking about it.

  14. Ashley November 2, 2018 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    We try to alleviate stress for the kids and ourselves. Stress is so damaging to children and adults.

  15. Pam November 3, 2018 at 1:02 am - Reply

    Toxic stress is so harmful. It’s bad for adults, so I can only imagine that it’s worse when kids are still developing.

  16. Dennis Littley November 3, 2018 at 2:54 am - Reply

    Looking for the signs is so important. It can hopefully pinpoint the cause and help with the next steps. Thanks for sharing this.

  17. Lisa Martin November 3, 2018 at 3:13 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story. Glad to hear it has a happy ending. It’s so important to talk about these things. I think adults forget that their actions have an impact on children, both good and bad.

  18. Emily November 3, 2018 at 3:40 am - Reply

    I think being able to look at struggles in the past, in your case childhood and deal with it in a healthy way as an adult is such a good idea! As far as treating kids with these issues, these tips and signs of it is really helpful!

  19. Ricci November 3, 2018 at 5:39 am - Reply

    This is very informative! Thanks for the heads up on the warning signs!

  20. Terri Steffes November 3, 2018 at 5:41 am - Reply

    I had some of these issues when my brother passed away unexpectedly. It was extremely stressful on my family for years.

  21. Kita Bryant November 3, 2018 at 7:17 pm - Reply

    It really helps to know the signs. This is going to really help a lot of people.

  22. Clarice Lao November 5, 2018 at 6:57 pm - Reply

    I believe this is what I have been experiencing right now. I am so stressed that I am already getting sick getting frequent headaches and upset stomach. I believe this is not just happening to kids butt even with adults too.

    Thank you for sharing this and will check out more resources from the link that you gave.

  23. Pat November 5, 2018 at 7:44 pm - Reply

    Good post Marysa! Very helpful to know that stress is pretty much unavoidable in this world and how to keep an eye out for signs in kids.

  24. ellen beck November 6, 2018 at 6:29 am - Reply

    You are so lucky to have counseling.Back in the ‘day’ this wasnt even thought of. You were left to cope with it how it turned ut. It was unfortunate.

  25. aisasami November 13, 2018 at 9:48 am - Reply

    It is important to identify and ease the stress of kids, especially preschool-aged as they can’t cope with it and don’t know what to do.

  26. Lynne Meyer November 13, 2018 at 8:24 pm - Reply

    Such an important topic. I’ve seen this in my youngest niece, and it breaks my heart.

    Thank you for sharing.

  27. Nancy Horn November 15, 2018 at 12:59 pm - Reply

    I’m sorry you went through that. I had a very stressful upbringing and I am doing my best to make sure my kids have a smoother one. Two of my three kids are in therapy because I want to lessen the anxiety and stress.

  28. Rachel November 15, 2018 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    I worked in a shelter for years. It was really interesting to watch the behavior issues manifest in so many children and be able to explain to their mom’s what was going on.

  29. Barbara Alfeo November 15, 2018 at 11:46 pm - Reply

    Wow! You are amazing to be this vulnerable ad I think this could really help someone.

  30. Paula Schuck November 19, 2018 at 9:54 pm - Reply

    Excellent post. Your grandmother sounds like she was pretty amazing. I can’t imagine how frightening it probably was for you to be taken in a police car as a child. But, you seem extremely well adjusted and that’s amazing. Thanks for the post about the signs. I know my older girl had a ton of tummy aches when she was struggling with anxiety and bullying at a younger age. Thankfully she gets fewer of these now.

  31. Grace December 4, 2018 at 3:02 am - Reply

    Life can be stressful growing up and I can only imagine how damaging it is for kids when they are facing out of the ordinary conditions that cause more stress. Thank goodness this information is being publicized so help is out there and parents can be aware of warning signs.

  32. Crys December 4, 2018 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    Wow. I’d never heard of toxic stress in children, makes perfect sense. Thanks for sharing.

  33. Amy December 5, 2018 at 4:20 am - Reply

    Thank you for this post! So good to know. My kids are still really young, but definitely have to watch out for stress as they get older!

  34. Bibi on Board January 11, 2019 at 11:38 pm - Reply

    Quote: “It is something that can affect you throughout your life even though the trauma it’s linked to was experienced only during childhood.”

    You’re completely right, however “even though” can be often changed with “especially”. Adults usually handle better with some difficult situations, because they’re more able to explain the things reasonably. Children are mostly more sensitive and emotional. That’s why afterwards they especially remember the strong feeling they had while the thing had been happening. So sometimes the difficult situation can be unable to solve by some people when the rest makes it just after colder calculation.

    As some people mentioned, this article must be read by parents, cause some of them tend to lower the problem of kids. It can just increase the feeling of insecurity affecting badly the mental health of children.

  35. Iris January 11, 2019 at 11:39 pm - Reply

    My kids are still really young, but this is something I will tuck into the back of my head as we prepare for kindergarten this next school year. He is sensitive, and I could see how this could happen. I definitely need to start being proactive and talking about handling stress. Thanks.

  36. Jewel January 13, 2019 at 2:30 pm - Reply

    Mental health development starts at an early age. Our children need our support to become whole adults. Thanks for sharing this!

  37. Noteworthy Mommy January 13, 2019 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. It makes me happy to see that you grew up with toxic stress but through the love and caring from your grandmother you were able to overcome it. As a former kindergarten teacher I educated many children who were in similar situations, it brings me joy to know I could be a small, yet positive light in their life. It is also important for educators to be aware of the toxic stress their students may be experiencing. For example, it difficult to expect a kindergarten student to sit still and attend 100% of the time if she has experienced extreme trauma in her short life.

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