Harvard Center on the Developing Child, December 2009
Stressful events can be harmful, tolerable, or beneficial, depending on how much of a bodily stress response they provoke and how long the response lasts. These, in turn, depend on whether the stressful experience is controllable, how often and for how long the body’s stress system has been activated in the past, and whether the affected child has safe and dependable relationships to turn to for support. Thus, the extent to which stressful events have lasting adverse effects is determined more by the individual’s response to the stress, based in part on past experiences and the availability of a supportive adult, than by the nature of the stressor itself. This matters because a child’s ability to cope with stress in the early years has consequences for physical and mental health throughout life. Furthermore, categorizing the nature and severity of early stressful experiences helps us make better judgments about the need for interventions that reduce the risk for later negative impacts.