Have you ever read something that just clicked in your mind as an answer to a question you have had for years? That’s what happened to me when I first began researching Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). After suffering from chronic and unexplainable illnesses for over a decade, I came to the conclusion I would never have relief or answers. Then, in my parenting research I came across the ACE discussion and the light bulb turned on.
ACEs have been linked to many of adulthood’s most chronic and serious illnesses and causes of death. And while many people who have had ACEs do not suffer from these issues, many of us are suffering because of stress or trauma in our childhood and how our brains were affected.
You can read more on ACEs in this post. But for a little background: Researchers have found 64% of people report at least a score of 1 on the ACE Survey. Chronic, unpredictable stress during childhood can cause serious changes to a child or teenager’s developing brain. These biophysical changes can cause inflammation of the brain and health issues as an adult. Damage is done, at the cellular level, to the developing brain, causing the cells to age, leaving us prone to diseases later in life. A high ACE score does not mean you are doomed to be a bad parent or experience health problems. Just as we can heal a pulled muscle, we can also heal a traumatized brain. Taking steps to recognize past hurt and work through the pain can work wonders on our health. This along with a healthy diet, exercise, and medical and therapeutic help can help us overcome our ACEs.
Some hardship is healthy for growing kids and teenagers. It allows them to understand how to handle stressful situations and stress hormones in a healthly manner. The chronic, unpredictable stress or trauma is what does damage. When we are able to recognize our past hurts, we are able to process and move forward, beginning the journey of recovery. Understanding your ACE score is the first step in talking with your doctor or therapist about how your past is affecting the health of your present and future.
This is not about blaming your parents. Many people parent in the way they were raised and there is often a multi-generational part to ACEs. Many parents who struggled with parenting had a difficult childhood of their own. The opposite is also true: some who had great childhoods struggle with parenting. Additionally, some ACEs cannot be prevented. Even if we try our hardest to shield our children from chronic, unpredictable stress and other ACEs, we cannot always protect them from everything. This is why building resilience in our kids is so important.
Resilience is our ability to recover from challenges. When we view a challenging experience as a learning or growing opportunity, we are better able to handle the situation and other stressful times. As children grow, they develop resilience with their parent’s help and other resources within their cultural or family group. The key is to understand that our negative emotions, like fear, stress, and anger, are not the problem and should not be our focus. How we respond to these emotions is crucial to well-being, way of life, and development of resilience. Stress says, “I can’t handle this. I don’t know what to do. I need to disconnect.” Resilience says, “We’ve been here before. We can get through this. It may be hard, it may be uncomfortable, but we got this!”
Here are a few ideas on how to overcome your own ACEs and not pass ACEs along to your children. Additionally, you can read more about building resilience in your children here.
1. Recognize your pain.
64% of adults experienced at least one ACE, and of those, 87% experienced multiple ACEs. So you are not alone. Some are able to overcome their ACEs faster than others.
Take the ACE survey online here to see your score. This is a great starting point in talking with medical professionals when seeking help.
2. Recognize the situation.
Some parents do not have the tools to show their children the love, support, and safety they need. Some suffer from depression or pain that hinders their ability to parent well. Some parents have trouble coping with life stress and turn to hurtful coping mechanisms. Others parent how they were parented. But these generational hurts do not have to continue. Is your pain a product of generational stress or trauma?
3. Reframe your thinking.
When we are able to see stress as a helpful experience we can reframe how our mind reacts to stress. Our brains are able to undo damage caused by toxic stress when we replace how we view stress. We want to replace toxic stress with thoughts of being strong, overcoming, and resilience. To read more on overcoming stress, visit this post.
4. Seek medical or therapeutic help.
Taking the ACE survey is the first step in understanding where you are. You can then take that information to your doctor or therapist to find resolution. You can learn how to manage symptoms, reframe your thinking, and handle stressful situations.
5. Find healthy coping strategies.
Researchers have found that when children see their parents turn to coping strategies like smoking, drugs, or alcohol, the child is more likely to turn to the same methods of coping with stress and sadness. Additionally, researchers have found that the higher the person’s ACE score, the more likely he or she will smoke and have smoking related diseases. Smoking is typically thought to be the problem, when it is actually used as a means to cope with a problem. Choosing healthier ways to deal with stress is important for your own health and the health of your children.
6. Take care of yourself.
This may mean seeking professional help. Or this may mean changing your diet, adding exercise or meditation, or learning how to cope with stress. Whatever it takes, make the point to get yourself healthy. You stand a much better chance of being the parent you want to be. There is much evidence that our brains and bodies can be made healthier when we use meditation, mindfulness, and take care of ourselves with diet, exercise and sleep. To read more on changing visit this post.
7. Help your child build resilience.
Any of the above may help you overcome your own ACEs, thus increasing the likelihood you can put an end to generational pain passed down to your children. Unfortunately, even the healthiest parents cannot prevent some kinds of ACEs, so ensuring children are able to handle these situations, stressors, and difficulties sets your children up for success in the face of ACEs. Ensure he or she has a reliable parent or adult to help them understand how to manage stress and ensure they feel safe. Help them reframe stressful situations and understand how to manage stress hormones. Building resilience in them does not mean trying to toughen them up. It means working with them through struggles and being a source of loving, unconditional support.
Here are some additional resources:
This blog is written as an educational and general resource only. It should not be used to diagnose or be a substitute for parenting or relational therapy, advice, or counseling with a professional therapist or medical doctor. Renewed Hope Parenting is not responsible for results or use of the information provided in these pages if you choose to use them. Everything included in this blog and website is copyrighted to Renewed Hope Parenting and may not be used without permission.