107: Toxic Stress, Child Development, and Your Questions – American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Benard Dreyer Joins Me Today

President of the American Academy of Pediatrics Dr. Benard Dreyer
President of the American Academy of Pediatrics Dr. Benard Dreyer

To listen to today’s episode, scroll on down to the bottom of this post and hit the triangular “play” button.

About today’s episode:

With the school year starting, a contentious election giving the feeling of continual hate and negativity in the air, and reports of yet another thing for parents to be worried about – toxic stress in their young children – I knew we needed some voices of reason in our lives.

This conversation marks the beginning of a series of interviews I’m offering this fall called Voices of Reason, where we hear from well-known and influential people with something to say that will make you feel better about the world you’re raising your young children in.

I hope this series helps you get through the next few months with less worry and more hope in your life!

Today’s guest is the head of an organization with many voices of reason…

In all likelihood your child’s pediatrician is among them, because the organization is the American Academy of Pediatrics, and today I have the privilege of bringing you my conversation with the AAP’s president, Dr. Benard Dreyer.

Over the summer I started to hear about this scary thing happening in younger and younger kids, called toxic stress. What I read chilled me to the bone: exposure to violence, deprivation, and neglect can affect kids’ development in a lifelong way, both physically and mentally.

In his capacity as President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Dreyer is working to raise awareness of this condition, and to help parents combat it.

But our conversation brings up much more than that.

We discuss the holy grail of parenting styles – the authoritative, sometimes called wise, style – and the kind of traits authoritative parents exhibit; Dr. Dreyer answers your questions about toxic stress, how to get kids to eat healthy foods, and the problems of antibiotics resistance; and Dr. Dreyer gives his three most important things parents can do each and every day to raise happy, curious, and resilient children.

Go to weturnedoutokay.com/107 to listen, for detailed notes about our conversation, learn about the AAP’s campaign against virtual violence,and to find out how to contact Dr. Dreyer!

As soon as I heard his voice, I knew that this was going to be a special conversation. Dr. Dreyer is warm, passionate, and driven – he starts his day at 3 AM – to help young children and their families live good, happy lives.

Toxic stress, Dr. Dreyer shares, happens especially in places with lots of poverty and violence. When parents have continual stress on them, with limited or no food or money and other problems that many people face, the children in their lives cannot depend on food when they are hungry or sometimes an adult to comfort and care for them. Days and days of it, over an extended period of time, create the toxic, chronic type of stress that is most dangerous, the kind that affects not just these kids’ childhoods but their whole lives, too.

Listener Michelle asks: what, if anything, can be done to counteract the effects of those negative childhood experiences?
– Dr. Dreyer responds by saying “what I would say to a parent is: so, tell me about your stress.. because toxic stress in children is almost exclusively happening in families where the parents are totally stressed out.”

Listener Sabrina asks about kids and food: “how do children’s palates develop and is there a range of development? For example, do most kids not like broccoli (and many other veggies) because their palate just isn’t developed yet? Do some kids have more sensitivities in sight, smell, and taste of foods?
– Dr. Dreyer responds that really, it’s up to us parents to help our kids’ palates develop; often, parents will try a new food once or twice and conclude that their child just does not like that food. But it turns out that regular exposure to fresh, well-prepared foods over time expand a child’s palate. (I love this answer, because it’s such gentle, common sense advice 🙂

My good friend and listener Adele had a question about antibiotics: so many young children get your infections each year, and it seems like some pediatricians are quicker than others to put the child on antibiotics… What are your own opinions on antibiotic use, and what is the official recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics on this topic?
– Dr. Dreyer shares that the Academy recommends what he calls “judicious waiting” in most cases before putting a child on antibiotics. He goes on to share that antibiotic use in children isn’t really the biggest concern with antibiotic resistance, that in fact antibiotics prescribed to adults are bigger issue and the biggest issue is when animals are fed antibiotics to help them grow bigger on their way to becoming meat for our consumption.

Towards the end of our conversation, I ask Dr. Dreyer:

There’s a lot of clutter out there in the world of parenting, lots of competing messages, fear, and crazy busy-ness in parents’ every day lives. If a parent could do just one thing each and every day – make a habit of just one thing as they raise their young children – what would you recommend as that one thing?
– I loved this answer too, because he can’t whittle it down to just one; but the three Dr. Dreyer come up with make so much sense:
1) Love your child
2) Talk with your child, no matter how young, and try to answer questions and include your son or daughter in your world
3) Read to your child

The simplicity of this answer seems so beautiful to me, and really sums up our conversation well.

I’m so grateful to have had such a nice long chat with a man who has spent his entire adulthood working on behalf of children, and who is doing so much good in the world today!

Key Links:

Dr. Dreyer shares the book that first drew his interest to a career in pediatrics: The Magic Yearsby Selma H. Fraiberg and T. Barry Brazelton.

We talk at the beginning of our conversation about virtual violence, the images children cannot avoid daily because of news in places like doughnut shops and doctors offices – and their parents’ smart phones; click here to read about the AAP’s policy and recommendations to keep virtual violence out of your young child’s life.

I share one of my current favorite books, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth.

If you have a follow-up question for Dr. Dreyer, contact him here: (to prevent crazy spam, I’m spelling this out and asking you to substitute the necessary characters for my substitutions) bpd1 atsign nyumc dot org.