Social-Emotional Development

Negative Effects of Stress

Many processes slow dramatically or stop altogether while the body is handling a stressor. While the body focuses on removing the immediate danger; other concerns become less important at that moment.

* The body's growth and the brain's development tend to slow.
* The immune system is likely to be suppressed. This may be why we tend to get sick when under severe stress.
* Learning may be delayed since we may not be able to pay the attention needed for learning something new.

Also, chronic exposure to severe stressors may reduce and/or change the body's ability to regulate stress responses. Severe, chronic, frequent, or long-term stressors may have substantial negative effects, such as slowing/delay on brain development. Processes such as synapse formation, myelination, and synaptic pruning are delayed while the brain responds to the stress.


You can reduce a child’s stress by making his world safe, responsive, and predictable. Remove any physical threats, respond when he cries, and create predictable daily routines so that he learns what to expect from his world.

Provide enriching experiences- The brain learns best when it is challenged with new information and then compares the new with existing information. Exposing your baby to new things helps the brain strengthen old connections and make new ones. Don’t overstimulate the baby though. Too many new things, or experiences that are too challenging, will only frustrate her and may create stress.

(from “What are the effects of stress on brain development?”, 2002 Better Brains for Babies)

Chronic Stress:

Exposure to small stresses actually helps the brain to better control stress responses. Appropriate stimulation that encourages the child’s curiosity without overloading or bombarding the system is important for growth. But, chronic stress over a long period of time "primes" the brain to react to stress. The body is quicker to develop a stress response, more cortisol is released and the heart rate accelerates more quickly. The body's ability to regulate stress levels declines, even if the stressor is only a very minor threat.

When the stress reaction is primed, the brain treats small stresses like major ones. The body continues the stress response for much longer after the threat is removed. The result is heightened stress reactivity, which means that the body is hyper-sensitive to stress.

Hope- Specialists in child development have long observed that babies who receive sensitive, nurturing care tend to thrive, show more resilience later in life and are less likely than other children to respond to minor stresses. Children with histories of secure attachment are less likely to show behavior problems in the face of stress.

(from “How does the Body Regulate Stress”,