I’ve spoken quite a bit about ACEs here on my platform, and if you’d like a reminder, I’ve previously written about understanding ACEs and how you can help and how you can even help your kids through tough times. Before I delve into how I turned my adversity into resiliency and positivity and how that has enabled me to become a positive role model for my kids and how that in turn has helped me to share positive experiences with my own kids, let’s first talk about what ACEs are.
ACEs are Adverse Childhood Experiences that can include abuse, neglect, and/or trauma. They can also include witnessing domestic violence, having a parent with an addiction or mental illness, or growing up in poverty. Experiencing ACEs can lead to a number of health problems later in life, including chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes. They can also lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide.
While it’s important to be aware of the potential negative effects of ACEs, it’s just as important to know that there is hope and that you can overcome them. I’m living proof of that.
I was born in the Caribbean, and we didn’t have much money. As a family of five with my father as the only breadwinner, we sometimes struggled to make ends meet. I witnessed my parents go through a lot of tough times. But despite all of that, I was determined to succeed.
One outlet and something that I really looked forward to as a child was the weekly community events that were hosted through the Red Cross. The Red Cross is a national organization that helps people in need, whether it be during an emergency or disaster or just everyday life. They provide support and assistance to millions of people every year.
For me, the Red Cross was a place where I felt safe. I looked forward to going to their events because it was a chance for me to meet other kids my age and have some fun. We would play games, do arts and crafts, and learn about different cultures. It was a positive environment that I really needed in my life.
The Red Cross also taught me important life skills such as first aid and CPR. They instilled in me the importance of helping others, even if it’s just in a small way. And through their programs, I learned how to be resilient. I learned that even when things are tough, you can still find ways to enjoy life and make the best of your situation.
When we think about resilience, it is important to remember that it is not just an individual strength or quality. It requires a supportive environment in order for it to take root and grow. And that is what the Red Cross provided for me as a child. It was a place where I felt safe and supported, and I was able to learn and grow as a result.
Now, as a parent, I try to create that same type of environment for my own children. I want them to feel safe and loved, and I want them to know that they can come to me with anything. I also want them to know that even when times are tough, they can still find ways to enjoy life.
Through my work with the American Academy of Pediatrics over the years, I’ve learned a lot about ACEs and how having my own share of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), being aware of them, and understanding how they can mold and shape us has made it possible for me to parent in such a way as to reduce the number of ACEs and increase the number of positive childhood experiences (PCEs) for my own children.
One of the MOST IMPORTANT messages that I have truly internalized is the importance of providing safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments (also known as SSNREs) in order to generate those positive experiences, and while I’m not sure if the Red Cross still has those community programs, there are other organizations that can assist.
Community organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of America, United Way, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and YMCA/YWCA all support families in providing those SSNREs and also work to build resilience through positive childhood experiences. Whether that is by providing after-school programs, homeless shelters, or even just a place for kids to go and be themselves without judgment, these organizations play a vital role in the lives of children and families.
Here are a few ways you can provide an SSNRE for your own children:
- Spend time with them doing things they enjoy. This can be something as simple as playing a game, reading a book, or going for a walk together.
- Help them develop a positive self-image by praising their efforts and accomplishments rather than focusing on their appearance or material possessions.
- Encourage them to express their feelings, whether it be through words, art, or music. And when they do, listen to them without judgment.
- Teach them how to problem-solve so that they feel empowered to handle challenges in their lives.
- Model healthy coping skills such as deep breathing and positive self-talk.
- Seek out professional help if you or your child are struggling to cope with a difficult situation.
By providing these things for your children, you are helping to create a foundation of resilience that will serve them well throughout their lives. You are also helping to prevent the development of ACEs and reducing the chances that they will experience negative health outcomes as a result.
No one is immune to the effects of ACEs, but by increasing the number of positive experiences in our lives, we can offset some of the damage that they cause. And that is something that we can all strive for.