Northern Kentucky organization looks to combat stress in preschool kids

05/02/2017 03:08 PM

COVINGTON – The Innovation Lab at Children, Inc., a non-profit United Way agency that has provided early care and education in Northern Kentucky since 1977, is working towards developing stress reductions for children faced with trauma.

One new innovation the members of the lab are working on in 2017-18 is dealing with Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) and toxic stress and effective treatment to control or alleviate the problem.

Innovative Lab Coordinator Sarah Zawaly says that one of the keys to successfully helping a child deal with early stressful experiences is to focus on the positive characteristics within that child.

One of the strategies used in the Innovation Lab to successfully deal with a child facing an adverse event is to not necessarily focus on the many causes of the stress.

“Yes, we know that kids are facing lots of issues such as poverty, we know there’s a huge issue of parents addicted to drugs, but we really try to switch our lens here in looking at what strengths are internally already in that child and how can we promote those,” Zawaly said.

Unfortunately, toxic stress is one condition seen more and more in pre-school age children as a result of a lot of factors.

Innovation Center Senior Director Tom Lottman says the condition can worsen if appropriate treatment is not implemented.

“Toxic stress is two things, it’s the length of the exposure to stress, and the absence of a giving, loving care giver to help you deal with it,” Lottman said. “It’s not just the broken families, it’s a lot of the other stressors, and I think what we’re trying to do is to make sure that there’s a greater awareness that the stress in the lives of the parents affects children.”

Lottman feels that one of the ways to combat toxic stress is to focus on a child’s character strengths which can help build resilience in children who have experienced these issues, but there are some definite rules to successfully doing that.

“When you praise a child’s intelligence, while you think you’re being very supportive, and the child feels good, but what research shows us is that if the message is consistently is that when things come fast and easy, that means I’m smart, when I hit a challenging task, I go, ooh, maybe I’m not smart,” Lottman said. “It’s important to develop this growth mindset by praising effort rather than praising intelligence.”

Spectrum News recently spoke with a pediatrician in Louisville who indicated an increase in toxic stress in youth dealing with the potential for deportation or detainment of a parent.

Zawaly and Lottman agree with experts who say that it’s important to build kids confidence and help reduce stress in the pre-school years for the child’s long term academic success.

“Really, we know those first few years of life are really critical for brain development,” Zawaly said. “We know what happens in those first few years of life is really the foundation for all of their future learning.

Just last month, Children, Inc. hosted a national learning circle on messaging strategies for ACEs and toxic stress, hosting teams from Dallas, Portland, Delaware and Washington, D.C.

The eventual goal is to complete and disseminate a white paper on ACEs and toxic stress in early education centers throughout the nation.


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