One of our core values here at PAR is to Learn & Grow and a major component of that is teaching others. My goal is to further raise awareness of this especially critical area in mental health and to be a part of the campaign to advocate for a broader understanding to parents, caregivers, communities, and policymakers about how we can all be part of the solution.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are preventable and potentially traumatic events occurring during childhood, can have a tremendous impact on an individual’s long-term health and wellbeing. Research over the past few decades provides evidence for a strong relationship between ACEs and diabetes, depression, anxiety, mental disorders, and obesity. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), preventing ACEs could reduce the number of adults with depression by as much as 44%.
The good news is we all have the opportunity to prevent ACEs.
There is another term I’ve learned called protective factors—these factors can both protect and mitigate the possibility of experiencing ACES and enhance the well-being of children.
What makes protective factors especially valuable is that everyone can contribute to fostering them in our communities.
I have been thinking about this topic a great deal given what we are hearing from our customers and the imperative collective responsibility we share in nurturing resilience among our youth, urging schools, families, and communities to unite in creating an inclusive and supportive environment that safeguards the well-being of the next generation amidst unprecedented disruptions such as the pandemic, war and school shootings.
This is what keeps me up at night. It is an area that I am especially passionate about given my own personal experiences of trauma during my formative childhood years – including losing two close friends to suicide.
Traumatic childhood experiences have a significant impact on how we experience the world.
For me, the complicated grief I experienced in my childhood has impacted how I experience grief as an adult. With the recent loss of my father-in-law, I am now navigating this with my family and learning how to help my children process their own emotions – which is one of the protective factors we can all help create within our own families.
It is with this in mind that I write on this topic – at PAR we are fortunate to support our customers who are making a real difference with victims of trauma every day in all they do. I am honored to work with a team of amazing authors and psychologists who are true experts in the area of trauma research. If I have the opportunity to be a bridge to be able to bring their research and teachings to a larger audience as a leader and as a parent, then it is my privilege to serve as this connector.
According to the CDC, Adverse Childhood Experiences include: experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect; witnessing violence in the home or community; and having a family member attempt or die by suicide
In the United States alone, approximately 34.8 million children under the age of 17 encounter traumatic experiences, a staggering number since it constitutes nearly half of all American children, according to the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality (NICHQ). Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of trauma because their brains and emotional coping mechanisms are still developing.
Short- & Long-Term Impacts of Trauma
Statistics reveal a significant correlation between unaddressed trauma and chronic health issues. It is the hidden cause of most preventable illnesses and associated with 8 of the 10 leading causes of death, emphasizing the enduring impact on overall health, according to University of California San Francisco’s Center to Advance Trauma Informed Health. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), research underscores the diverse ways trauma manifests in children, influencing crucial aspects of their lives. Approximately 25% of children who experience trauma exhibit challenges in forming secure attachments, hindering their ability to build healthy relationships. Additionally, academic performance can stunt, with trauma-exposed children showing a 30% higher likelihood of academic difficulties.
Trauma can impact children in a variety of ways including sleep disturbances, cognitive effects, physical symptoms, behavioral changes. Given all of this, consider what you may be observing in a child could have an underlying cause that is quite different than what you would expect.
We Can Be Part of the Solution
Nurturing Children Through Trauma: A Guide for Parents and Professionals
As parents and professionals, our role in guiding children through the complexities of trauma is pivotal. In a world marred by overwhelming challenges, from personal losses to societal upheavals, it is essential to navigate these discussions with sensitivity, empathy, and proactive support.
Giving Our Children Permission to Feel
Children need to feel heard and validated. Encouraging open conversations about their emotions, whether it is sadness, anger, or confusion, is crucial. Professionals and parents alike should create safe spaces where children feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear of judgment or dismissal. I think of this as giving our children Permission to Feel. I have found that understanding our emotions—especially for children—is a skill to be learned and practiced.
Comfort and Mental Health Support
Offering comfort goes beyond mere words. It involves active listening, empathy, and providing reassurance that it is okay to feel what they feel. Seeking professional mental health support when necessary is vital. Parents, caregivers, and professionals should collaborate to ensure children receive the care they need.
Bridging the Gap
There is a crucial bridge between home and external environments like school or community. Professionals can play a significant role by collaborating with parents, offering guidance on supporting children, and creating a cohesive support system that nurtures the child's mental and emotional well-being.
Understanding Triggers and Technology
Recognizing triggers and limiting exposure to distressing content, especially in today's tech-saturated world, is imperative. The inundation of information, including distressing news or exposure to intense gaming environments, can exacerbate feelings and symptoms. While we are technologically connected more than ever, it is at the cost of our social connections—a major protective factor. I worry about the long-term mental health implications, particularly the lack of connectedness with friends and in families as a result of the growing role of technology in our social systems.
Acknowledging Personal Impact
Reflecting on our own past experiences and childhood influences our ability to support children effectively. Understanding our emotional triggers and how they shape our worldview helps us show up better for our kids.
By keeping our eyes wide open, we can be there with more empathy because of our own experiences we bring to the table. We are all learning to cope in new ways together. As a parent, I get a chance to model a new and healthier way of coping. By educating myself, I now better understand that unresolved trauma can contribute to long-term health challenges. By addressing these issues head-on, both personally and in our roles as parents and professionals, we have an opportunity to pave the way for a healthier and more resilient future generation. Please feel free to expand your learning with the resources for resiliency links available below.
None of this is easy. But having this dialogue can strengthen our community and I welcome continuing this conversation.
Resources for Resiliency
Resources on validating feelings, coping with grief, and understanding mental health challenges can serve as valuable tools. At home, my family has been reading The Invisible String by Patrice Karst—a beautiful book describing relationships (and loss) and emotions about a string of love that connects us all. It has helped my youngest navigate our recent loss.
Adverse Childhood Experiences
Coping with Childhood Trauma
Potentially traumatic events include:
Adapted from SAMHSA