The word Ace typical refers to something good. But in childhood, not so much. Ace means to excel at something like a sport or other activity. However, childhood ACES is not something you want your child, or any child, to excel at.
ACES stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. These are things that great define a child as they grow and become an adult. Often it can cause damage and difficulty in relationships as well as emotional stability.
Educating yourself about ACES can help prevent them or allow you to help children avoid those events.
What are ACES?
Adverse Childhood Experiences are events that can be traumatic and stressful to a child. There are acceptable amounts of stress that everyone endures, but these particular events are much more devastating.
- Parents divorcing or separating
- Living with a parent who is depressed or suffers mental illness (usually untreated)
- Living with a parent who is an addict (drugs, alcohol)
- Witnessing your mother be abused or mistreated
- Verbal or emotional abuse and humiliation
- Emotional neglect
- Physical neglect
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- A family member going to jail
- Death of a parent
- Growing up in poverty or a violent community
- Watching a sibling be abused
- Being bullied by a classmate or teacher
Some of these are potentially unavoidable, such as the death of a parent or parents divorcing. But it is all in how it is addressed and handled with the child that makes the difference.
How do they affect the child?
Children are resilient, but fragile at the same time. 90% of a child’s brain develops by age five. That’s a lot of development going on. We all know the affects an environment can have on children. Imagine what it can do to their developing brain.
Childhood ACES affect the development of the brain and how the body reacts to stress. In abusive situation, a child is on “high alert” at all times. This is exhausting on a body. The child is unable to relax and often unable to be calm.
This can lead a child to have high stress response. They are more likely to engage in high risk behavior. A chaotic childhood can lead to an adult making poor decisions such as putting themselves in bad situations.
Childhoods with these adverse experiences can result in a child (and later an adult) with anxiety and depression. It is important that children receive mental health assistance to help them learn healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety. Early intervention is key for these children.
A traumatized brain is tired, hungry, worried, detached, isolated and afraid. It also affects the way a child learns. Many of these children are bright and eager to learn, but have all these things stacked against them.
Help in Childhood
For many of these children, school may be the only safe place. There are many ways that teachers can make a difference in the life of a child facing these adverse childhood experiences. here are things a teacher can offer and ensure for all children:
- Positive and personal connection with a teacher
- Feeling safe
- Feeling supported
- Focusing on the good
- Offer a safe space
- 2 minute conversations, 10 days in a row make a difference
- Soft, yet firm ton and posture
- Hold accountable
- Be willing to break things down
- Use positive language
- Notice their persistence, trying to make changes
- Truly listen
- Be their advocate (make referrals)
- Give choices (control)
- Get help
- Use music
Teachers can make a huge impact on a child’s life by simply paying attention, giving a child a few extra minutes and listening. That 2 minute conversation could make the difference that child needs.
What are some ways you can make a difference in a child’s life?