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Child-Care Relationships Tied to Kids' Stress Levels
Date:11/19/2008

re on the role of relationships in shaping how children function and how they react to stress."

In the second study, higher cortisol levels were found in children distressed by their parents' fighting.

Children who become very upset when their parents fight are more likely to develop psychological problems. But little is known about what happens beyond these behavioral reactions in terms of children's biological responses. A new study has found that also have higher levels of cortisol.

The study, by researchers at the University of Rochester, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Notre Dame, looked at more than 200 6-year-olds and their mothers. The children's levels of hostility and their involvement during the arguments didn't always link to their levels of cortisol, but those who were very distressed and very involved had especially high levels of the stress hormone.

"Our results indicate that children who are distressed by conflict between their parents show greater biological sensitivity to conflict in the form of higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol," study leader Patrick T. Davies, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, said in a news release from the journal's publisher. "Because higher levels of cortisol have been linked to a wide range of mental and physical health difficulties, high levels of cortisol may help explain why children who experience high levels of distress when their parents argue are more likely to experience later health problems."

The authors suggested that the study could affect future policy and practice. They said physiological measures like cortisol levels may help determine how well intervention programs are doing as well as the common practice of looking for improvements in how children function psychologically.

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