Negative Childhood Experiences Affect Development: The Science of Epigenetics Explains Why
By Ileen Henderson, National Director of Bright Spaces
Epigenetics is an emerging area of scientific research that shows how environmental influences—children’s experiences—actually affect the expression of their genes.
According to resources from the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University, injurious experiences, such as malnutrition, exposure to chemical toxins or drugs, and toxic stress before birth or in early childhood are not “forgotten,” but rather are built into the architecture of the developing brain. These “biological memories” can increase the risk not only for poor physical and mental health outcomes but also for impairments in future learning capacity and behavior.
In a newly released resource, What’s Epigenetics, the Center cautions us of the danger of toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences as well as supporting and encouraging our understanding that supportive relationships and rich learning experiences generate positive epigenetic signatures that activate genetic potential.
Bright Spaces help alleviate the toxic stress experienced by children who are homeless. Having a safe place to play, and to build supportive relationships with adults can literally have a lifelong, positive affect on children’s development.
I encourage everyone interested in this and other areas of inquiry about the importance and impact of early childhood experiences to review the deep and comprehensive resources available at the website of the Center for the Developing Child.