If your child has been through something traumatic, I bet you are wondering what so many other parents are: “What can I do to make it better?”. The good news is that traumatic events are not an end all be all. Recent research has shown that positive childhood experiences (PCEs) can help mitigate the effects of childhood trauma in adolescent and adult life. This new literature alludes to the fact that an encouraging home environment full of love and support is the single largest positive childhood experience that can lessen the impacts of trauma, (Bethell et al., 2019; Peterson, 2019).
Before we dive into positive childhood experiences, what they are, and the impacts they have on children, it’s important to create space for all parents and caregivers who are reading this. If your child has experienced a traumatic event, you’re not alone. “…an estimated 61.5% of adults and 48% of children in the United States have been exposed to ACEs”, (Bethell et al., 2019). Understand that ACEs can impact children in a variety of ways. “…children with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are at risk for observable changes in brain anatomy, gene expression, and delays in social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development lasting into adulthood”, (Positive and Adverse Childhood Experiences). If your child has experienced a traumatic event, positive experiences following this event can be instrumental in limiting the long-term limitations of ACEs.
What are Positive Childhood Experiences?
Positive childhood experiences, or PCEs, are positive events or qualities of the home or an environment that can positively impact children in the wake of a traumatic event. PCEs can be broken down into four main categories: nurturing and supportive relationships; living, developing, and playing in a safe and stable environment; exposure to constructive social engagement and social connectedness; and learning social and emotional competencies, (Crouch et al., 2021). Other specific events or attributes of the home have been shown to have a strong positive effect on children. These events include but are not limited to feeling protected by an adult in the home, feeling that the family is supportive and loving, family connection and intimacy, feeling supported by a neighborhood or community, feeling a sense of belonging in high school, participating in family and community traditions, and feeling safe and protected in your home, (Peterson, 2019).
So how effective are positive childhood experiences in the wake of a traumatic childhood event? A Wisconsin study done on the correlation between ACEs, PCEs, and adult mental health, found that adults with higher PCEs experienced higher relational health. “…odds of depression and poor mental health drop from 48.2% in those who reporting 0-2 PCEs to 25.1% in those reporting 3-5 PCEs”, (Bethell et al., 2019).
Positive Childhood Experiences as Resilience Building
One of the core foundations of resilience is healthy relationships during a child’s formative years, (Resilience in Child Development). Healthy relationships play a role in resiliency throughout one’s life but are especially important during childhood as this often provides a strong parental figure, other supportive adults, and strong connections to peers, all of which are components of lasting resiliency, (Resilience in Child Development). By investing in our children on this level, we help provide them with lasting support systems that can aid in resilience long into their adult life. Other aspects of resilience that relate to PCEs are connection to community, supportive adults such as teachers or community members, and reliable friendships, (Resilience in Child Development). Other characteristics of resilience are optimism, flexibility, competence, confidence, perseverance, creativity, spirituality, and strong cultural and ethnic identity, (Resilience in Child Development).
How can I Create Positive Childhood Experiences in My Home?
First, understand that everyone has a role to play. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend, or neighbor, you can contribute to the positive childhood experiences of a child. The CDC recommends that parents focus on establishing a routine, focus on positive reinforcement, listen when your child is trying to communicate with you, and set aside time to talk and play with your child, (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). For other family, friends, and neighbors, the CDC recommends that you provide support to the child and caregivers by offering to babysit or providing a meal, (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The CDC additionally encourages all people to promote social norms that discourage violent acts and support children and caregivers, (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
The Child Parent Institute encourages parents to create an environment where children feel safe and comfortable in expressing their deepest feelings, (Creating Positive Childhood Experiences). CPI additionally encourages parents and caregivers to invest in the community and build traditions and norms for your child within your community. These traditions and norms could be things like holiday celebrations, farmers markets, bed time stories, family journaling, etc, (Creating Positive Childhood Experiences). The Child Parent Institute recommends positive childhood experiences for all children, as both a preventative and healing measure.
For more information about ACEs, PCEs, and your role in it all, check out the references section for this post or any other tools linked on our website!
By: Chloe Thomas
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
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, March 25). Creating Positive Childhood Experiences. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/prevent-child-abuse/index.html
Creating Positive Childhood Experiences. Child Parent Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://calparents.org/news-events/newsroom.html/article/2021/04/12/creating-positive-childhood-experiences
Crouch, E., Radcliff, E., Merrell, M. A., Hung, P., & Bennett, K. J. (2021). Positive Childhood Experiences Promote School Success. Maternal & Child Health Journal, 25(10), 1646–1654. https://doi-org.libpdb.d.umn.edu:2443/10.1007/s10995-021-03206-3
Peterson, M. (2019, December 2). There is hope: Research shows positive childhood experiences combat the effects of childhood trauma. Prevent Child Abuse Arizona. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://pcaaz.org/there-is-hope-research-shows-positive-childhood-experiences-combat-the-effects-of-childhood-trauma/
Positive and Adverse Childhood Experiences: What Happens in Childhood Matters. PACEsConnection. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://www.pacesconnection.com/blog/better-normal-march-26-positive-and-adverse-childhood-experiences-paces-what-happens-in-childhood-matters
Resilience in Child Development: Developmental Pediatrician. Metropolitan Pediatrics. (2022, July 29). Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://www.metropediatrics.com/well-child-visits/resilience-in-child-development/