What are adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)?

ACEs are potentially traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being. These experiences range from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse to parental divorce, the incarceration of a parent or guardian, community violence, and poverty. However, with positive adult support and strong relationships between children and caregivers, negative effects of ACEs can be prevented or minimized.

Why are ACEs so important?

The effects of ACEs influence the overall wellness of families during early childhood and beyond. It is critical to address ACEs because they may have an impact on the long-term quality of life of individuals and their families. Targeting and addressing ACEs gives individuals and families the opportunity to ensure a healthy and bright future.

What can be done to address ACEs?

Adverse experiences and other trauma in childhood do not dictate the future of the child and their family. Children survive and even thrive despite the trauma in their lives. Protective factors, such as healthy relationships (especially with parents and caregivers), and the ability to regulate emotions and behavior, can counterbalance ACEs and foster resilience. It is crucial to ensure that children have these protective factors in addition to addressing systemic issues that can contribute to ACEs, such as poverty.

How can I build a strong relationship with my child?

Children experience tremendous brain development in the first few years of life. Nurturing relationships with caregivers enable curiosity and exploration that support healthy growth. Caregivers can be attentive and responsive to children through smiling, touching, talking, singing, and playing to create an environment of love and comfort. Healthy relationships with thoughtful and sensitive caregivers will allow children to better manage emotions and interact with others in a productive way while increasing the likelihood of positive long-term mental and physical health.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Lifelong Consequences of Trauma, 2014.

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