Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

 

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The month is dedicated to highlighting the importance of preventing abuse and neglect among our children and families. Child Abuse Awareness Month recognizes that prevention efforts are necessary to minimize Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and increase Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs).

ACEs are traumatic experiences faced by children under the age of 18 that can negatively impact the physical and mental wellbeing of a child into adulthood. ACEs are grouped into three main categories: abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. Types of abuse include physical, emotional, and sexual. Types of neglect include physical and emotional. Household dysfunction includes living with someone with a mental illness or substance abuse disorder, having a relative who is incarcerated, witnessing domestic violence, and having divorced parents.

ACEs are forms of toxic stress. The number of ACEs and the length children are exposed to ACES can have serious physical, mental, and behavioral health consequences, including greater risk for smoking, abusing alcohol and other substances, and developing food addictions. These behavioral issues can further lead to mental and physical health problems such as depression, suicide, anxiety disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

Fortunately, ACEs can be prevented, and the impacts of unavoidable ACEs can be minimized through positive childhood experiences. You can start by incorporating one of these five ways of keeping your family strong. Positive experiences and healthy relationships help your child cope with stress. Creating a safe environment for your child, both mentally and physically, will ensure that they will be supported when stressful situations arise. Even if experiencing an ACE is unavoidable in a child’s life, balancing the toxic stress with love, attention, and positive experiences can make a critical difference in their lives.

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