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.
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that this year has been really rough. There are so many hardships that just about everyone is facing, including job loss, food insecurity, and even severe illness and the loss of loved ones. While this is hard for us as adults, it’s even harder for our kids to see and understand.
I’ve shared about Adverse Childhood Experiences—also called ACEs—in the past, but given everything that’s happened this year—and on literally a global scale—it’s so important to keep ACEs in mind once again. Whether dealing with a global pandemic or things closer to home—like abuse, neglect, substance abuse, having a parent in jail, or divorce—kids internalize many of these issues, and not only can they affect them in the short term, but in the long term as well.
The difference between ACEs and everyday problems that kids face is that these experiences can leave a lasting impact on the health of a child, all the way into adulthood. Exposure to ACEs can increase a person’s risk for a wide range of issues in adulthood. The risks are mainly the result of exposure to prolonged toxic stress, which does damage to the body. Having the “fight or flight” response activated for an extended period while dealing with these experiences can cause harm that leads to depression, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions that can follow a child into adulthood and throughout their lifetime.
But that’s where you come in! If a child is dealing with an Adverse Childhood Experience, having caring adults in their life can make all the difference. Knowing that someone is there for them can remove some of that stress and allow their body to turn off that extreme stress response. Having safe, stable, and nurturing relationships can help kids grow up healthy on the inside and out, priming them for success as adults and mitigating a lot of the risk of suffering from the health consequences that can come from ACEs. Sometimes all it takes to help a child is letting them know you’re there for them to make all the difference.
One way that you can be there for the kids in your life is to “Be Their 3.” The “Find Your 3” movement encourages every parent to know three people that they can reach out to when you or your child might need some extra support. These people can be teachers, coaches, family members, or friends of the family—any stable and nurturing relationship they have.
On the flip side, if you’re in the position to “Be Their 3” you can make it clear to the families in your life that you are there for them should they ever need you. I have a small group of friends that I consider our 3, and I would be happy to be in their 3 as well.
Having someone you can trust who is there for you can make such a difference for a kid. When I was a kid, a teacher who was one of my 3 used to pass out “Warm Fuzzies” in class, sometimes for getting an answer right, but sometimes when she thought one of us needed a little bit of a warm fuzzy to remind us that someone was there to support us. They were just little pom-poms, but they meant so much to us. I kept my collection of “warm fuzzies” in my desk, and every time I needed a reminder that someone cared, I could just hold onto my little pom-poms.
If you’re looking for an easy way to show a kid in your life that you’re there for them this holiday season, I have a fun craft for you that will let you share some warm fuzzies!
These Warm Fuzzies ornaments are a kind gesture that reminds someone you’re there for them and can double as a way for them to feel loved when they need it most. The ornament can be opened and the warm fuzzies can be taken out, so they can have a tangible reminder that someone loves them.
To make them, just get some clear ornaments from the craft store and fill them with the pom-poms of your choice. You can go with seasonal colors or the child’s favorite colors. You can get creative and add their name or a simple phrase using letter stickers or you can just leave them as they are. Then when you give it to them, just explain to them that you are always there for them and that they can take some warm fuzzies whenever they need them.
There are so many ways to show the kids in your life that you’re there for them, during the holiday season and beyond. Check out the infographic above for some ideas, but also consider things that meant a lot to you in your own childhood for more ideas. Maybe you loved going to play catch with your Dad or loved spending Saturdays getting ice cream. Or it can be as simple as having a conversation with them.
In addition to offering to be someone’s support system, I encourage you to find your 3. Make sure you know three trusted adults who can provide that support for your kids, even if you don’t need it right now; you never know if you might in the future and it’s so important to have that support system in place when your kids need it.
How will you “be the three” this holiday season and help build safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments?