The pandemic has placed obvious strain and pressure on our children and teens. Our children have been resilient in the face of virtual school, unexpected closures, and isolation. Our students have transitioned from in person to virtual learning and back again. What does all of this mean for our children and teens and their mental health? What do we as parents need to focus on in order to continually support our children as the uncertainty of Covid-19 continues to be an ever present factor in their lives?
One thing we may consider is shifting our focus from what to avoid to what to embrace. Researchers have long studied adverse childhood experiences commonly referred to as ACEs. ACEs are highly stressful experiences that happen to children before the age of eighteen. These experiences are out of the children’s control. Originally the CDC published a list of ten ACEs that stem from three categories - abuse, neglect, and household challenges. Abuse includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse while neglect includes emotional and physical neglect. Household challenges include growing up in a household where there is divoice, intimate partner violence, incarceration, mental health issues, substance abuse, or parental separation. Since the original study, other ACEs have been added including discrimination, poverty, racism, bereavement, intergeneraitonal trauma, adult responsibitlies as a child, and adjustment or major life changes. Studies have linked increased exposure to ACEs to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance abuse in adulthood. The impact of ACEs is a real issue and as caregivers our focus can often be on preventing exposure to these adversities - removing barriers and obstacles to good mental health. What would happen if we shifted our focus from avoiding negatives to embracing positives?
Positive childhood experiences (PCEs) are a list of seven childhood experiences that have been linked to stable mental health in adults. In 2019, Researchers from Johns Hopskins studied 6,188 adults and the mental health outcomes of those adults who experienced ACEs. However, the focus of the study was not just on exposure to ACEs but also exposure to PCEs. The study found that adults reporting exposure to positive experiences also showed 72% lower levels of depression and poor mental health than those who reported little or no exposure to PCEs. Exposure to PCEs in childhood and good mental health in adults is a dose-responsive correlation meaning the more PCEs a child/teen gets, the better their adult mental health will likely be. So what are these seven PCEs?
Ability to talk to family about feelings
Feeling supported by family in difficult times
Enjoyment in participating in community traditions
Feeling of belonging in high school (I know - this is a tough one!)
Feeling of being supported by friends
Having at least two non-parent adults who genuinely care
Feeling safe and protected by an adult at home
Over the coming weeks, we will explore these seven PCEs together and identify tangible strategies for implementation. After eighteen months of hearing what we should NOT do during a pandemic, I am excited to explore all the possibilities for things we can do together to support our children and teens. You can also explore more information about ACEs and PCEs at the CDC website listed below in our resources.
If you have any questions or desire for professional support for yourself or a child, please do not hesitate to reach out to KS Services at firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Waller, MS
Bethell C, Jones J, Gombojav N, Linkenbach J, Sege R. Positive Childhood Experiences and Adult Mental and Relational Health in a Statewide Sample: Associations Across Adverse Childhood Experiences Levels. JAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(11):e193007. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.3007 jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2749336