Critical training to better protect, support, and heal vulnerable children


series: CAREGIVER 101 by Steve Gross


Overwhelming adversity in children has been proven to have a really negative impact on their brain development, their social, emotional, cognitive, and psychological functioning. And so what we know is that if you think about overwhelming stress as being almost like a poison, that it's toxic to the development of a young child's brain.

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One way to look at this, is that if we think about it, (picture Dominoes) every child has experiences. Those experiences will impact their brain development, right? We have experience, it impacts how our brain develops. Our brain development, will impact our social, our emotional, our cognitive functioning. Our social, emotional and cognitive functioning will impact kind of our lifestyle, how we live our lives, how many friends we have, what we like to do, and our lifestyle impacts our health. If you're out, you have a lot of friends, you're active, you're sleeping, well, you manage your stress. You usually live a healthier, longer life.

Now, what we know is that if one of those dominoes, especially that first domino of a child's experiences are so negative and you knock that domino down, the rest of the dominoes can fall too. So a negative experience can contribute to negative brain development. struggles and delays and brain development can impact poor social, emotional and cognitive functioning, which can impact a child's lifestyle.

So maybe a child who's struggling socially and emotionally, it might be more prone to have outbursts or to not be able to make friends and not try activities, and they have difficulty sleeping and that lifestyle can impact health and life expectancies. Now the good news is as playmakers even for those negative experiences we can work like hell to make sure that those dominoes don't fall. We can work as hard as we can to make sure that even though children have had hard experiences, we're going to support healthy social, emotional and cognitive functioning.

We're going to help them read and laugh and dance and play and through that we're going to help them do adaptive things to cope with the stresses that they have. Of course they're going to be stressed, but if we give them ways to write about that stress and sing and dance and create and express and play, we will contribute them to a positive lifestyle with adaptive forms of coping.

Human beings, we are pretty strong. We can overcome adversity if we have healthy coping mechanisms. Talking with someone you love and trust, making sure that you're getting exercise, making sure that you have a creative outlet, making sure that you have that support which actually is a lifestyle that can lead to positive health outcomes.

So we don't have to allow overwhelming adversity to cripple children. If we support their healthy brain development, adaptation and positive coping skills. And playing and doing activities and having fun with other kids is one of the most adaptive things that a child can do, especially during times of crisis and challenge. We sometimes think, oh hey, the world's falling apart. This is not a time to play, but that is the perfect time to play because that is a way we know that children keep themselves strong and more resilient to deal with the adversities that they face.


Steve Gross

Steve Gross, M.S.W., is the founder and chief playmaker of the Life is Good Kids Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to spread the power of optimism to help kids heal. The foundation partners with leading childcare organizations to strengthen theircapacity to build healing,...

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life-changing relationships with the children in their care.

Steve’s teachings have been utilized across the country and throughout the world in response to the social and emotional needs of communities deeply impacted by poverty, violence and illness. Steve helps others discover their own sense of optimism so that they can inspire the people around them to focus on the good and overcome life’s most difficult challenges.


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