No child is too young to be affected by ACEs. Babies are more vulnerable than any other age group. Their brains are developing rapidly through every new experience and encounter. ACEs and toxic stress can cause developmental challenges, along with a host of other cascading effects, as babies and toddlers grow, especially if they’re not surrounded by safe, nurturing relationships and environments.
For more on ACEs and the positive parenting of children ages 0 to 5, check out this free, downloadable toolkit, a collaboration with American Society for the Positive Care of Children:
We All Have a Number Story: Your Child’s First Chapters (PDF)
ACEs can be impactful even if they don’t appear to cause harm in the moment. When kids don’t have their needs met over a period of time, they may demonstrate a lack of focus and inability to concentrate that’s serious enough to result in an ADHD diagnosis. When kids witness interpersonal violence between adults, they may develop asthma. When a caregiver’s anger boils over frequently, with screaming and a loss of emotional control – even without any contact – the results may be as harmful biologically to children as physical abuse.
When situations in the present feel overwhelming and out of our control, they can activate similar feelings from past traumas. As parents with ACEs, we likely felt like things were too much or not in our control when we were growing up. Recognizing and acknowledging these feelings is an important first step. Then we can take some time to focus on the things we can control.
Dwelling on uncertainty and lack of control can be where stressful situations turn traumatic. The key is to break things down into simple steps that we can control to reduce our stress hormones. Sometimes what we can control is tiny – maybe even as simple as focusing on our breath. Spend time in nature. A solid sleep routine. Find ways to move every day. Eat nourishing foods. Reach out to a friend. Take time to care for our mental health. Pick one thing to start with, something within our reach today.
As parents with ACEs, we’re more likely to be coping with our own lasting physical and mental health consequences. We also may be more likely to lash out verbally, or to have more difficulty controlling our impulses, especially when we’re feeling overwhelmed. When we’re dealing with intense stress – the pandemic, economic stress, job stress, then challenges with kids on top of all that – we may find ourselves pushed near the edge of our coping abilities. Crisis resources are available any time to help us. Asking for help is a sign of strength and resilience.
We can also give ourselves grace while breaking cycles and figuring out new ways to parent. Those aren’t easy tasks, and we may feel like we don’t have a great roadmap to follow. Communities and resources that share positive parenting advice and skills can help, like American SPCC’s Parenting Resource Center.