April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), otherwise known as severe childhood traumas, create toxic stress and lead to growth and developmental issues for children, negatively impacting their long-term health. To prevent ACEs from causing additional damage to the child’s health, we must first know what is considered an Adverse Childhood Experience, learn how to recognize if a child may have experienced them, and know how to reduce the effects.
What are ACEs?
Because ACEs are linked to many health problems and could even lead to premature death, it is essential to know what they are before prevention can occur. ACEs could be any type of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse and typically comes from someone the child knows and spend a lot of time around. Also, children whose guardian struggles with mental illnesses, substance abuse, or incarceration are at a greater risk to experience the effects of the ACEs. More examples include neglect, parental abandonment, death, divorce, medical trauma, discrimination, war, and natural disasters.
How to recognize ACE behaviors
Now that we know what the ACEs are, we can look for the behavior that identifies a child experiencing them. When children have experienced multiple ACEs, it lowers their tolerance for stress, which can result in the child lashing out in the form of fighting or acting out at school. Because many of the ACEs are extremely traumatizing, children who experience them feel like they are in a constant fight for their lives. They also may have a hard time making friends. Sudden changes in behavior are also a good indicator that a child may be experiencing some ACEs. Exposure to an ACE can also increase the child’s risk of experiencing adolescent pregnancy, alcohol or drug abuse, depression, anxiety or suicide.
How to prevent ACEs from having long-lasting effects
Research has shown that children who have experienced ACEs and are taught how to be resilient show decreased effects of the ACEs. Children need a safe and nurturing environment to grow up to be strong and healthy adults with good habits. When a child’s basic physical and emotional needs are met, such as food, hygiene, doctors’ visits, and a good education, they are allowed to thrive and become anything they set their minds to. Setting a good example for the children in your lives and providing them with a good foundation of hope, resilience and compassion will help guide their lives in a healthy direction.
(Special thank you to Parent Promise for providing the pinwheels for our pinwheel garden to help us recognize Child Abuse Prevention Month.)
To learn more about how we are helping our community fight against the ACEs, give us a call at 405-232-8226.