This post is written in partnership with Stress Health, an initiative of the Center for Youth Wellness, but opinions expressed are my own.
There is a public health crisis happening in America and around the world. More children are growing up with chronic health issues such as asthma and diabetes. Some are displaying learning disabilities, mental health and behavioural issues. Others are developing anxiety and depression, and they’re growing up to experience continued health problems like heart disease and cancer.
Many of these problems stem from Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are traumatic events in a child’s life, such as physical, mental or sexual abuse. They can be caused by neglect, a parent’s mental health problems or addictions, or disruptions in the family such as divorce. Other kids face problems like bullying, poverty and parents who are ill, which can also be considered ACEs if not handled properly.
Watch this video to learn more about ACEs and their impact on the overall health and well-being of children:
The statistics shared in this video are staggering and show an absolute connection between early childhood experiences and long-term health. A higher number of ACEs in a child’s life can mean a higher number of health problems later in life. You can take the ACE quiz to determine the number of ACEs in your child’s life and in your own life, because a parent with a high ACE score can lead to children who also have high scores.
So, what if you take the quiz and you or your children have a higher ACE score? Don’t give up hope. It is treatable. The first step is to reduce or remove whatever is causing the adversity. If you are the cause of your children’s toxic stress, get help and find them a safe space while you do. If the adversity has passed, it is time to treat the effects and prevent future trauma.
Ideally. treatment should include an entire team that will provide therapy, mental health care, nutritional counseling, holistic therapies and medication if needed. Parental education is important for helping the entire family move towards healing and prevention — especially in the areas of mental health, nutrition, sleep, exercise, mindfulness, and healthy relationships.
Working towards healing and preventing further trauma doesn’t have to be hard. Spend time with your children. Engage with them. Show them that you are interested in their lives. Create anchoring rituals: situations that routinely happen in their lives, like a story before bed or eating dinner together as a family.
Demonstrate healthy habits in your home by encouraging exercise and healthy eating habits. Teaching your children to eat well can include grocery shopping and cooking together or planning balanced meals as a family. Plant a garden in the yard, join a community garden or just grow some beans in the house to share where healthy food comes from and spend time with your kids.
We can all appreciate the importance of proper sleep, and it is even more vital for children to get a good amount of rest every night. Their growing bodies need rest, and their minds need proper sleep to continue learning each day. Developing consistent bedtime routines can help kids get the sleep they need. It will also give them a reliable schedule and reduce resistance about going to bed.
Setting up routines that your children can rely on can make transitions easier throughout your day, too. Waking up at the same time each day, eating a healthy breakfast together and planning school lunches together can be something your kids look forward to each morning.
These steps can not only help repair the effects of adverse childhood experiences, they can also help prevent future trauma. By guiding your children through life with you at their side, they will have the foundation and support to live their best lives.