Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are things that happen before adulthood that can cause trauma. Or they're things that make a child feel like their home isn't safe or stable. Some examples of ACEs include violence, neglect, abuse, and family mental health or substance use problems.
Here are some of the most common types of ACEs.
There are other childhood experiences that can cause trauma as well. For example, things like discrimination, being bullied, and being in foster care can also cause stress that can have long-term effects.
ACEs are common. By adulthood, most people have at least one. How a child is affected by ACEs depends on the type of ACE and how much distress it causes.
Children who have multiple ACEs tend to have more physical and mental health problems later in life. This may be because of physical changes that can happen in a child's body when they have ongoing stress. It may also be because of health-harming behaviors (like smoking or risky sexual behavior) that are more common in people with more ACEs.
Having had ACEs doesn't mean that a child will have physical or mental health problems. But it does mean that their risk for those things is higher. There are things you can do to reduce the effects of ACEs on a child. And there are ways that adults in a child's life can help prevent future ACEs.
After a child has had ACEs, the best thing you can do is try to prevent future harm while helping the child heal from the experiences they've already had. Sometimes it can be hard to know where to start, or what to do. Remember, it's never too late to make changes, big or small. Here are some tips.
A counselor can help the child process their experiences and learn skills to cope. Try to find a counselor who has experience helping kids who've had ACEs or trauma.
This could be someone like a teacher, coach, family friend, or grandparent.
For example, if they don't want to hug or be hugged by people, respect their decision.
Asking for consent means asking someone else for permission to touch them, kiss them, or be sexual with them in some way. Someone gives consent when they know exactly what they are being asked to do, and they agree clearly without being pressured.
Being a parent is really hard. Classes can help you learn new tools for how to parent as your child changes and grows. Taking classes doesn't mean that you're a bad parent. In fact, it means that you care about doing a good job.
When adults don't heal from their own ACEs, they're more likely to create homes where children are exposed to ACEs. But it doesn't have to be that way. You can break the cycle.
People who need longer-term help with mental health or substance use problems sometimes arrange for someone they trust to care for their child while they get the help they need. That may be a hard decision. But parents who take care of themselves will be better able to take good care of their children.
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