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.
Think back to your childhood. Hopefully, the first memories that come to mind are happy times that you spent with loved ones. If you keep thinking back, in all likelihood, you might have some major moments that stick out for some not-so-happy reasons. Maybe there was neglect, or your parents divorced when you were young. Maybe there were substance abuse issues that a family member dealt with, or maybe one of your parents was abusive or went to jail.
These very stressful situations—which are called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)— can cause a child’s body to respond physically. A large amount of stress over a long period of time can trigger the body’s flight or fight response to engage and to stay that way for some time. This can lead to toxic stress, which is when a person becomes significantly more at risk for health issues later in life.
Unfortunately, most of us have at least a few of these Adverse Childhood Experiences and the impact of them can last far beyond childhood. Many of us deal with long-lasting effects, depending on how many of the recognized ACEs we experienced in childhood. For example, having to deal with ACEs such as those mentioned above can increase the later risk of depression, heart disease, liver disease, and more.
But all hope is not lost. There are steps we can take to mitigate the effects for the children in our lives who are currently experiencing ACEs. Just one example is that studies have shown that addressing ACEs could reduce the number of adults with depression by up to 44%. That’s HUGE!
Kids right now are facing a lot of stress. Normal life these days is fraught with difficulties, including divorce, job loss, and the loss of family members. Some sadness and stress are to be expected in situations like this, but it’s important to help prevent these situations from causing life-long ramifications, which can happen if children experience neglect or abuse. Luckily, there are many steps you can take to help your children have positive childhood experiences.
While I, unfortunately, dealt with a large number of ACEs in my childhood, I did have some adults who made a difference in my life and helped me grow into the person I am today. While I’m not free of the side effects of ACEs (I do deal with depression and anxiety at times, as well as asthma which can sometimes be linked to ACEs), I was able to avoid many other side effects because I had support.
Earlier this year, I encouraged you to “Find Your 3,” the three people that you can count on to help make a positive experience for your child if they ever need it. I gave some suggestions (you can find those here), but everyone’s 3 will look different. Today I thought I’d share and thank my 3 from when I was a child—the 3 (well, 5) who made a huge difference in my life as I dealt with a variety of ACEs.
One of my strongest supports throughout my entire life has been my sister. My sister Jesse is 11 years older than I am. She started living with her dad when I was just a baby, so we didn’t “grow up” together. But she has always been there for me any time I needed her, whether I was having a hard time with my parents’ separation as a child or just needed advice about raising kids.
I may be grown up now, but I know I can still count on my sister to help me whenever I need it.
Another adult who helped me in childhood was my Great Aunt Dodo. For the first few years of my life, I lived in a two-flat (a building with two apartments) directly upstairs from her. My parents worked, so I spent most of my time with her. She was always a safe place to go when I was upset or having a rough time, and she remained a constant even when things were changing in my family. Dodo is now 90 years old. While we, of course, haven’t been able to visit in a while due to current events, I love bringing my boys over to visit with her.
Finally, I had a variety of teachers that made a difference in my life throughout the years. In elementary school, I was best friends with my teacher’s daughter, and that teacher treated me like I was part of the family. She was even the one who recommended me for the gifted program. In middle school, I had a teacher who gave me special assignments to do for her, which in hindsight, I think was to build my confidence because she knew I was going through some things. In high school, my American Literature teacher pressured me to turn in better work—even when I had already gotten a 100%—just because he knew I had it in me. He always told me I would be a writer, and while I don’t think he had blogging in mind, I have been able to spend the last 10 years working from home with my kids because he helped me discover my love of writing.
If you are ready to help figure out the 3 that can be your support and who can be there for your kids, be sure to check out this article for advice on finding your network. Of course, it’s also great if you can be 1 of someone else’s 3! Throughout Shane’s elementary education, I volunteered at the school a lot and got to know a lot of the kids. They felt comfortable sharing their problems with me, and in a couple of cases, I was even able to help them get additional help that they needed. Think about if there is a kid in your life who is dealing with difficulties, and try to find a way to help them or let their family know that you’re available in case they need you.
Since ACEs are something that can impact all of us, I strongly suggest reading more about Adverse Childhood Experiences. There’s no better time than now to read up on ways to help prevent future effects by addressing problems that are happening right now.
Who are three people who helped you as a child? Thank the people who created positive childhood experiences for you and tag them online with #findyour3.