This post is made possible with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All opinions are my own.
I was affected by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) before I knew that it had that name.
When I was young, my parents got divorced. When you’re a child, divorce is more than just your parents splitting up. It’s a dissolution of both their marriage and a child’s security.
My once-secure space was in complete upheaval. Although the divorce wasn’t as terrible as many other divorce stories I’ve heard, the act of splitting up, no matter how amicable, was a trauma.
Luckily, I had a huge familial support system to get me through it. However, other children might not have a strong support system and caring adults who can help them get through trying times.
What are ACEs?
As you might expect from the name, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are events in a child’s life that cause emotional trauma, physical trauma, or a combination of those two.
Examples of ACEs run the gamut from having a parent with a mental illness to direct physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
In years past, these types of traumas and the toll they took on children were generally not talked about.
Kinds of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
Whatever form ACEs take—from neglect to witnessing or experiencing abuse—they can cause lifelong harm to a child if he or she doesn’t receive the help they need to work through the experience and the trauma that it caused.
As you’ll see in the list below, these traumatic events are not just limited to direct abuse or neglect.
They include other household challenges that can also be potentially traumatic and cause severe emotional stress.
ACEs are usually things that either triggers a massive “fight or flight” response at the moment like being physically, emotionally, or sexually abused, or they are the result of prolonged situations of stress like divorce or the death of a family member.
Here are the common causes of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
- Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
- Emotional or physical neglect
- Mental illness in the home
- Substance or alcohol abuse by a family member
- Incarceration of a family member
- Parental separation or divorce
- Death of a parent or sibling
Risks of ACEs
When children experience any of these ACEs, it can trigger a toxic stress response within them.
Their young minds don’t know how to process what has happened to them, and without proper intervention, which can include therapy, they are at higher risk of dangerous behaviors in their own lives.
These risks include:
- Teen pregnancy
- Alcohol, drug, or prescription drug abuse
- Violent romantic relationships
- Suicide attempts or death by suicide
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
How We Can Help Children Who’ve Experience Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are terrible.
There’s no getting around that, but there’s hope! With a strong support system, children who have experienced ACEs can and do get through it and go on to live healthy, normal lives.
We can be a part of that for these children.
Whether we know a child in our family or in a friend’s family who has experienced an ACE, we can help create a safe, stable, and nurturing environment for them.
This environment helps children process ACEs, and it also helps prevent them. We call this safe, stable, and nurturing environment “The Three”.
Adults who provide a safe, stable, nurturing relationship for a child can be one of that child’s “Three” core people who provide them with support.
Little gestures and just being a stable, loving person they can count on goes a long way in supporting children.
So how can you and I be part of someone’s “Three”? That’s simple. Small gestures. Small gifts like handmade cards, a video to say you care, or an ornament or keepsake that families and children can display all year long.
A reminder of how much you care are all ways you can let someone know, especially this holiday season, that you want to be part of someone’s support system.
This year, I’ll be part of “The Three” for a friend of mine who’s been having a tough year. 2020 has been rough on this person and their family, and while their children are doing well, I know that every little bit helps in this stressful time.
That’s why I’ll be giving each child a little gift with a hand-written note reminding them how much I care about them and how I will be there for them just like their parents are if they ever need anything.
I encourage you to be part of “The Three” in someone’s life, as well. Find a family in your life who needs support and help them create a safe, stable, and nurturing environment for their children. Remember, it only takes small actions to make a big impact on life.