News for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Why Surviving A Traumatic Childhood Takes A Toll On The Mind And Body


Childhood trauma and health consequences often go hand in hand. Whether a child is suffering from neglect or living with a substance-abusing or simply overwhelmed parent, over time those stressors can take a toll on the body, and mind.

On Think, Krys Boyd talked with Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, founder and CEO of The Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco.


Interview Highlights: Nadine Burke Harris

On what circumstances contribute to adverse health outcomes: “These include physical, emotional and sexual abuse, physical and emotional neglect, or growing up in a household where a parent was mentally ill, substance dependent, incarcerated, where there was parental separation or divorce, or domestic violence.”

On how to help children get past this: “Early detection and early intervention makes a big difference. And for parents who are out there, who are experiencing this, one of the things that's really important is to understand that in order to be a buffer to a child’s stress response, we have to have our own stress response in check. There’s so many parents out there who feel like they have to white knuckle it, and what the research is showing us, is that it’s really important, parents, for you to put your own oxygen mask on as well.”

On the different types of stress:

  • Positive Stress: Our body’s response to normal, everyday stressors, like the first day of kindergarten. The stress hormones go back down after the stressor has passed.
  • Tolerable Stress: A reaction to more serious adversities, like a big move or the death of a loved one. You may see significant increases in stress hormones and things like difficulty sleeping, but with the presence of safe and nurturing relationships, the stress hormone levels will come back to normal.
  • Toxic Stress: This is a more severe or intense response to prolonged stressors. When the stress hormones are pumping and activated in a prolonged way, they don’t come back to normal and there may be changes to the brain structure and function.

Nadine Burke Harris is the author of “The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity.” You can listen to the entire interview here.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.