New research shows that children who grow up in high-stress environments have skill sets that aren’t being met in traditional education and work programs.
Certain traits present more in children who grow up in high-stress environments. These traits include heightened vigilance, attention shifting, and empathic accuracy. Unfortunately, traditional testing environments do not play to the strengths of these children. When faced with uncertainty and stress, they would likely perform better than their peers from low-stress homes. A new study done at the University of Utah says these kinds of traits can be used to tailor education, work, and therapeutic interventions for children from high-stress homes.
Until now, the majority of research done on children growing up in stressful situations has focused on how detrimental this can be for their development, both socially and cognitively. “These high-stress environments include neighborhood danger; exposure to environmental chemicals; bad housing conditions; neglectful and abusive parenting; low-quality childcare; and peer and school violence.” The higher the number of stressors in a child’s environment, the more difficult it is for them to succeed in traditional education scenarios. Ultimately, the majority view these youths as, in some way, damaged and in need of repair.
Every kid develops their abilities based on their environment and the researchers chose to focus on the advantages this may have offered these children. Until now, this was an almost entirely new approach and relatively untouched research territory.
The results of the study showed that children who grow up in a stressful home have a higher capability for resilience in high-stress situations than those who do not. The stressors in their developing environments directed the cognitive functions of these children toward abilities that are useful under these conditions. The researchers found that children who are stress-adapted may perform better than others at tasks relating to information that is more pertinent to them, and also in settings that utilize uncertainty and stress.
If educators and medical professionals learned how to use these adaptive skills to the children’s advantage, it could open up new potential for success within them. The researchers of the study believe this is only the first step in learning how to understand the full extent of the abilities and strengths of these individuals. Further research should be done to develop new ways of using these traits to their full advantage in learning and employment opportunities.