As parents, we want our children to be able to thrive and live long, healthy lives.Yet for millions of children, from all walks of life, that prospect is threatened by difficult experiences they go through—like growing up with abuse or neglect or facing the loss, mental illness or addiction of a close family member.
These experiences can lead to poor health later in life, and are linked to 7 out of the 10 leading causes of illness and death like heart disease, chronic lung disease, cancer and stroke.
WHAT WE CAN DO
We can begin to protect health and save lives with a simple act: having your child—and all children—screened for Adverse Childhood Experiences in the privacy of their pediatricians’ offices.
Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, can interfere with children’s brain development and throw out of whack the body’s normal systems for coping with healthy stress. The more such experiences a child has, the greater the chances the child will suffer serious health consequences as he or she grows up.
The three types of ACEs include:
As parents, we have the power to start changing this—by taking care of ourselves and talking to our doctors about Adverse Childhood Experiences.
PUTTING OUR OWN OXYGEN MASKS ON FIRST
For children to lead healthier lives, they need an emotionally supportive “buffering” adult in their lives who helps them overcome obstacles to health and well-being. If we’re not healthy as parents, chances are our children won’t be.
As pediatrician, Dr. RJ Gillespie from Children’s Hospital in Portland says, “You put the oxygen mask on first before helping others.”
You can help the children in your life today by incorporating self care practices that are known to reduce stress hormones - regular exercise, good nutrition, healthy sleep, therapy for good mental health, mindfulness practices—like meditation—and supportive relationships. That’s why these aspects of self-care are what we recommend to families at the clinic.
LET’S FIND OUT WHAT OUR CHILDREN NEED
We know it can be tough to be a parent and it may feel uncomfortable to start a conversation with your pediatrician. But the problems children may face in our families and communities can affect them now and in the future. That is why the Center for Youth Wellness, is making available to health professionals our CYW ACE-Q—a screening tool for pediatricians that consists of questions doctors can ask children or their parents to identify patients who are exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences.
We can do something to help our children mitigate the effects of early childhood adversity and live healthier lives.