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Can traumatic events experienced in childhood affect your health as an adult? Absolutely, according to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study conducted in the 1990s.

What are ACEs?

The term “ACEs” is an acronym for adverse childhood experiences. The original CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE research study identified 10 stressful conditions that children experience early in life having lasting implications on their health and well-being.

The 10 ACEs include:

  • Recurrent physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional neglect
  • Physical neglect
  • An alcoholic or drug abuser in the home
  • An incarcerated household member
  • Violence between adults
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • A household member who was chronically depressed, mentally ill, institutionalized or suicidal
What does an ACE score mean?

An ACE score is a tally of each type of trauma experienced as a child. The higher the ACE score, the greater the risk for later health problems like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depression and substance abuse, to name a few.

What’s the connection between ACEs and poor health outcomes?

ACEs are common with nearly two-thirds of the population having experienced at least one. When children experience prolonged adverse experiences—or toxic stress—their brains develop differently. Without protective factors and supportive parents and caregivers, toxic stress can impact their developing brain’s ability to regulate emotions and problem-solve, leading to unhealthy habits and poor coping skills.

What can parents do?

Although ACEs carry risk for negative health outcomes, they are not destiny. Parents play a critical role in introducing protective factors to help buffer children from harmful stress.

Start with these tips:

  • Be aware of ACEs. Talk about your own experiences. Share how you overcame adversity and help your kids do the same.
  • Be involved in your child’s life. Actively engage in positive activities and nurturing experiences with your children. Talk with your children. Read to your children. Play with your children. Let them know how much you love them.
  • Buffer children from harmful effects of ACEs by learning more about what kids need at their age. Understand what your child needs at each stage of their development. While they will always need you as a parent, your role will change with your child’s emerging skills. They will continue to need guidance and support from you. Learn more by taking a parenting class.
  • Help children learn problem-solving skills, coping skills and emotional regulation skills. Teach your child how to solve problems using a basic formula like the IDEAL model from ACT-Raising Safe Kids:
    • Identify the feelings and situation for each person involved.
    • Develop several solutions that might solve the problem.
    • Evaluate the pros and cons of each solution.
    • Act and choose one solution to implement.
    • Learn from the experience.
  • Model problem-solving yourself.
  • Learn to manage your own anger and other difficult emotions.
  • Ask for help. When parenting gets difficult—as it will—talk to your child’s primary care provider. They are trained to not only care for your child’s physical health but also their social and mental health.

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