Health Watch: Children build resilience to beat toxic stress

OAKLAND, Calif. -- We're more than ready to talk about the stress in our lives, but is it true for our kids as well? Most experts say 'yes' and that stress is not just over homework. Half of children have faced at least four traumatic events in their young lives and it can reach toxic levels. Ivanhoe visits a northern California hospital that's allowing kids to be kids through innovation.

At ten and eleven, brothers, Mickel and Malachi King are in tune with themselves in a way that most adults haven't achieved. Deep breathing and meditation are part of their daily routine. But, it wasn't always that way.

Iesha James, Mickel and Malachi's Mom shared, "Mykel and Malachi were dropped off at my doorstep. They were one and two at the time."

Iesha decided to raise her cousin's children along with her son.

"I was unaware of what type of issues they would have, you know PTSD, separation anxiety," continued Iesha.

Dayna Long, MD, UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland stated, "I think that the boys had been in the emergency department ten to fifteen times for their asthma. They were really difficult to console."

Once at the hospital, the boys were diagnosed with toxic stress. In other words, they were in crisis.

"That child could end up with a number of diseases, disease processes, or be set up for those diseases because all that stress has no place to go," explained Karen Daley, MA, Licensed Marriage/Family Therapist at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland.

Instead of more trips to the ER, the boys enrolled in a clinic that teaches how to build resilience by spotting the source of their stress and learning how to cope with it.

"So that those kids grow up not just acting out but actually aware of their bodies and their minds and their different states," continued Dr. Daley.

"One of the tools that I learned was the meditation so that calmed me down a lot," Malachi shared.

Mickel said, "When I'm having a bad day, I just close my eyes for about five seconds and just belly breathe."

"I see the boys now and they are so strong and vibrant. That is extraordinary," Dr. Long exclaimed.

Stopping toxic stress one kid at a time!

According to an earlier landmark study, 64 percent of the population has been exposed to at least one significant adversity in their childhood. That is enough to initiate toxic stress in us. As a result, more hospitals and clinics across the country are screening for warning signs in children.