Generally speaking, past research has shown that children who are highly sensitive to stress tend to be at higher risk for health and behavioral problems compared with their less delicate peers. Yet, a new study finds that sensitivity in of itself may not necessarily be what primes children for struggles. According to new research published in the journal Child Development, while highly sensitive children who are raised in challenging, high-stress settings are indeed more likely to have health complications and behavioral troubles as they grow up, emotionally sensitive kids who are raised in supportive, nurturing, low-stress environments tend to thrive and excel. The findings, researchers say, indicate that being extraordinarily reactive to stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing for children, and far from being a stand-alone factor in kids’ development, is in fact strongly influenced by home environment.
To analyze how family environment together with predisposition for emotional sensitivity impact child development, researchers from University of California at San Francisco, University of California at Berkeley and University of British Columbia recruited 338 kindergarteners and their teachers and families. As the children completed a series of tasks intended to mimic simple day-to-day challenges encountered in the their lives, researchers found that certain children exhibited physiological signs of heightened sensitivity to stress. They also found that, compared with less sensitive peers, how these children reacted to stress was more strongly influenced by their home and family situations—both for better and for worse.