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Adult Stress and Its Effect on Children

By: Kristine Alarcon

There is a growing number of pediatricians who decided to go beyond a check up of their child patients. Some are looking into their family history and digging deeper. Doctors, including Dr. R.J. Gillespie, are taking into account the adverse experiences of parents when treating a child. This information could help with preventing and decreasing emotional and physical issues in adulthood of the child as well as prevent any detrimental brain development.

Research has pointed out that exposure to “toxic stress,” neglect, or abuse at a young age increases the risk of developing chronic disease.

Researchers conducted a study on toxic stress for patients in Kaiser Permanent San Diego between 1995 and 1997. They found that children who had more stress at home had higher risk of substance abuse problems, depression, chronic lung and heart disease, and cancer. If a patient had more than four adverse childhood experiences in the study, the patient was four times more likely to have emphysema (Gorman). The likely explanation is that unhealthy lifestyle choices are induced by stress. Also, an increased amount of hormones like cortisol as a result of stress causes harmful side effects on brain development and bodily organs.

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The research also showed “that later-life problems can be reduced if children are able to develop a healthy relationship with a parent or caregiver, or get certain clinical treatments” (Gorman).

The American Academy of Pediatrics is responding to this research by pushing doctors to take a step further in child health care. They are asked to identify and offer assistance for potential risks for both the child and the parents. There are currently no specific screening tools, but doctors in states such as Maryland, Massachusetts, and California are seeking other alternatives.

For Dr. Gillespie, he tries to identify parents with adverse childhood experiences and provides assistance to raise their children in a different upbringing. He desires to put an end to the cycle of stress and adverse experiences in families.

At the Children’s Clinic, surveys are distributed to parents in 2013 which asks about traumatic experiences that include neighborhood violence, foster care, bullying, neglect, or abuse. They were also given a survey based on their resilience to their experiences. This helped doctors to focus on helping parents strengthen their weaknesses.

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Though parents were not entirely truthful on the surveys at first, it enabled doctors to have more opportunities to draw out conversation about the parents’ experiences as children.

Parents have found it helpful to discuss their adverse experiences. The Children’s Clinic and Dr. Gillespie has offered a safe place to talk about sensitive issues and address the worries of becoming a parent.


Kristine Alarcon is certified in Sterile Processing and Distribution and is pursing a Masters in Public Health at Drexel University. She is a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes Magazine.



Gorman, Anna. “Stemming the Cycle of Toxic Stress – For the Kids’ Sake.” Jackson Free Press. Retrieved on September 25, 2015.

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