This post is made possible with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All opinions are my own.
It’s been a lot about who I am as a person, who I am as a parent, how my past has shaped who I am today, and how my kids are separate entities from me – with their own narratives, experiences, fears, hopes, and more. I had a long conversation with my oldest, Scarlet, over breakfast recently about how similar we are and how different as well. I was telling her about some things that happened to me as a child that changed how I thought about certain aspects of parenting, and she asked the most amazing question. She said, “What if you prevented something happening to me, but I told you that if it DID happen to me, I’d be ok?”
Find Your Three: Understanding ACEs and Positive Childhood Experiences:
Of course it goes without saying that we’re different people. For one, my father passed away suddenly right before my fourth birthday. That was a tragedy and a trauma I’m still feeling surprising effects from today, and I think I always will. The thing is, I was lucky at the time to have super supportive and advocating adults in my life, like my mom and other adult family members and family friends. I think that experience made me a more sensitive kid, or maybe I already was a sensitive kid, but it certainly shaped certain experiences I had from that age (almost four) up until adulthood. I always think of what happened when I was nine, though.
I had an abusive teacher, and I cried and/or faked sick every school day of the first three months of school. No doubt I was sinking fast, and if it hadn’t been for my mom, the school principal, and the other fourth-grade teacher in the school, I don’t know where I’d be today.
My teacher was emotionally and verbally abusive to my classmates and me, and it affected me so deeply that I was ill. My mom marched right into the principal’s office and discussed a better plan for me through a series of meetings. The principal didn’t want me to suffer either and did not want to lose my large family to another school. They placed me in another fourth-grade class, and my new teacher was like the teacher you read about in every good story or fairy tale. She was meant to teach children and enrich their lives. She gave me confidence, love, support, and growth. My mom invited her to my high school graduation party, and she came to surprise me! The abusive teacher was let go, and my previous class got a new teacher as well.
My mom, my school principal, and my new teacher’s quick thinking, love, and support sustained me. And it made me think about the trusted adults in my youth, and how I can be one now.
As you know, ACEs are Adverse Childhood Experiences. There are 10 experiences that many experts agree is an ACE: 1) Abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual); 2) Neglect (physical or emotional); and 3) Household dysfunction (mental illness, domestic violence, divorce, incarcerated relative, substance abuse). It took me a long time to realize I had experienced an ACE. What is so poignant to me is that I had supportive adults in my life who created positive childhood experiences.
My daughter’s fourth-grade teacher was like a magic fairy to her, and I hope my sons have that teacher in the future as well. My kids have me, and they have great school principals as well. It’s important to understand that we can all make a difference.
Making a difference when it comes to ACEs:
For most of my life now, I’ve been thankful to “my three,” as I call them. They were my heroes and even superheroes back then. One has since passed away, but my mom and fourth grade teacher know how thankful I am for how they stepped in and helped. So, thank you! Again and again! As I’ve grown, I’ve realized that we all can make a difference. You don’t have to be a parent or even a teacher. You have the potential to be someone’s trusted adult—someone who helps with stability. This can be as a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a cousin, a friend, and more. When you help create safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments for children, you are contributing to what is essential to lifelong health and success, as well as prevention of ACEs. ACEs can be prevented or mitigated! This is important.
Prevention and mitigation:
- Identify three people or resources you can rely on to create safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments. You can also think of ways to be part of someone else’s “three,” providing that vital support.
Identify ways you can help change the laws or put new systems into place. ACEs are preventable, but sometimes we can’t prevent them yet, but can prevent them in the future with new laws.
As we know, they can be prevented or mitigated with strong support systems through individuals and organizations. We have the power to help others and to stop ACEs, and others can help us stop them. Support networks are a necessary component of preventing ACEs.
We can also help through policy, education, or societal changes – such as paid family leave or prison sentencing laws.
As parents, teachers, and supporters of children, we can take this infographic to heart:
So, can you think of ways to prevent or mitigate ACEs in your community?
Thank the people who created positive childhood experiences for you and tag them online with #findyour3.