By Ioana Pal, Psy.D., licensed clinical psychologist, Stramski Children’s Development Center at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach

In today’s world, 1 in 3 children face the challenge of toxic stress—a complex interplay of environmental, personal and physical factors that impact their well-being. Recognizing signs of toxic stress in children and empowering parents with proactive strategies is crucial in helping children achieve positive mental health. Some examples include prolonged exposure to domestic violence or other stressors in the home, abuse, neglect, financial or other instabilities.

Navigating the challenges of modern life can be intense, especially for kids who are experiencing an elevated level of stress. Stressors like excessive device use, prolonged indoor activities and exposure to distressing news contribute to heightened anxiety. Insufficient access to resources or witnessing parental hardships in a challenging economy can add a layer of stress. These stressors may resonate more with parents, emphasizing the need for support and understanding with children.

Recognizing the early signs is instrumental in preventing the potential long-term effects of toxic stress on a child’s development. Toxic stress can impair a child’s cognitive, emotional, social and physical development, and increase the risk of various health problems later in life, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and substance abuse.

Signs of toxic stress in children include:

  • Difficulty with learning
  • Irritability or anger
  • Fear or withdrawal
  • Trouble sleeping or eating
  • Frequent headaches or stomachaches
  • Regression in behavior or skills
  • Low self-esteem or confidence

Caregivers recognizing potential stress factors that may impact their children’s wellbeing is often the first step. Fostering open communication within families and creating an environment where a child’s feelings are not only acknowledged, but also expressed freely, lays the groundwork for building resilience and emotional well-being. Proactively addressing toxic stress involves incorporating stress-reducing activities into daily routines, such as mindfulness practices, outdoor engagements, and dedicated family time along with healthy boundaries.

Seeking professional support is essential. Pediatricians, child psychologists and school counselors can provide tailored interventions suited to a child’s unique circumstances, ensuring a comprehensive approach to their well-being.

The Stramski Children’s Developmental Center at MemorialCare is a special needs center that helps children and families understand and evaluate the possible effects of toxic stress. The center also conducts research and education and provides appropriate treatment recommendations catered to each child and family. Its mission is to help parents nurture resilience and well-being in their children and create a sustainable, healthy future.

To learn more visit or call (714) 377-6993 for more information.