Children are resilient. That's something we hear all the time and for the most part it's true. Children often cope with big changes, illnesses or even deaths better than adults do.
They tend to simplify the situation by bringing it back to basics and by taking everything day by day -- something we adults should also try.
But children are not immune to stress, and unresolved or unacknowledged stress can follow them in to adulthood, causing those stresses to fester and enter into other aspects of the now-grown child's life.
CNN's heath section interviewed Dr. Rajita Sinha, director of the Yale Stress Center and a researcher on stress, addiction and anxiety about the effects of childhood stress as children mature into adults. Rather than become resilient due to facing stress (and even overcoming problems), adults actually become less able to deal with stress because of the residue left from the emotional trauma of years gone by.
The stressed child's brain develops differently, and as an adult, reacts more negatively than an adult who came from a happy, positive childhood. Since the brain can adapt to different situations quite quickly, Dr. Sinha answered the question on why adults often can't adapt after a childhood that included trauma:
"The stress pathway is developing during childhood. The stress system needs time to grow and become fully functional. The same goes for the reward system, the pleasure pathway which responds to high-fat, high-sugar foods. So you’re right, we are one of the most adaptive animals, but we also take a long time to develop and it is during that period of development when we want to protect our children. And unfortunately that is eroding, in terms of children who have to live with all kinds of adversity."
What does this mean? It means that without good family, social and school support, even the strongest and most adaptive of children will fail to pull through and resolve mental and emotional issues as they grow into adults.
As we live in a society of broken families and a not-so-stellar public school system, children are not emerging as resilient as they once were.