This piece is sponsored by Stress Health, an initiative of the Center for Youth Wellness, but the opinions expressed are my own.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can have psychological effects on our children’s developing minds as well as long-term health complications such as cancer, heart disease, depression and more. The effects of toxic stress don’t just impact the individual; they can actually change how our genes function — something that can create long-term changes in our brain and body. And, these changes can be passed from generation to generation.
Help Your Child Heal from Toxic Stress by Facing Your Childhood Trauma
Did you know parents who suffer from Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) or toxic stress as a child are more likely to have children who miss developmental milestones and experience behavior or mental health issues? Now this doesn’t necessarily mean your children will suffer because of the trauma you experienced as a child. However, it’s important to recognize and stop the cycle of ACEs that we may have experienced in our own childhood.
Here are a few ways parents can help their child health avoid toxic stress by facing their own childhood trauma(s):
Knowledge is power
I’m a firm believer that knowledge is power. To me, learning about toxic stress is similar to putting on armor before heading off into battle — armor that helps you understand why you react to stress the way you do, while also making sense of other traumatic things or events you’ve faced in your life. This knowledge will also help you protect your children from toxic stress and help them heal from previous ACEs. To learn more, visit stresshealth.org.
Explore your history of possible exposure to adversity and know your ACEs Score
Toxic stress can occur when a child experiences one or more ACE and doesn’t receive the support needed to cope. Now that you know a little more about toxic stress, it’s time to explore the possibility that you and/or your child have been affected by it. To explore the possibility of exposure to one or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), you can take the 10 question ACEs quiz and learn your ACEs score. A higher ACE score means you are at a greater risk of a toxic stress response.
Realize this quiz is not a medical diagnosis, nor is it a substitute for medical advice. However, the quiz can provide indications of whether you or your child may suffer the effects of toxic stress. The quiz also offers assistance in terms of what to do with the results, such as discussing the results with your child’s pediatrician or your own healthcare provider.
Discuss your results with your healthcare provider
A higher ACEs score indicates you may have a greater risk of chronic health problems later in life. You may want to discuss your results with your doctor who can prescribe the care needed.
Have your child screened for ACEs
You can take the quiz for your child if they are too young. Remember, the score doesn’t necessarily mean your child has or will have developmental or physical problems. However, the results may provide a good place to start in terms of helping your child heal from the trauma they have been exposed to.
Realize it’s not your fault
We often blame ourselves for things or events that have happened to us, often those we had little to no control over. To become truly healthy, it’s important to realize these things or events were not your fault. Remember, this is not about what’s wrong with you, but about what happened to you.
Know how to respond when you start feeling stressed.
Knowing how to respond when you begin to feel stressed will not only help you, it will also set a good example for your kids. By responding to stress in a healthy way, rather than allowing it to control you, will teach your kids appropriate ways to deal with stress. There are a few things you can try such as:
- Deep breaths – If you notice you are beginning to feel stressed, stop and take a few deep breaths. This can actually calm down your stress response.
- Meditation – WOW is all I can say about meditation. It does amazing things for the body and mind. It took me a while — and an app that walked me through mediation — but I did it. Mediation helps me let go of so much; it’s sort of a cleanse of the body and mind. It’s also something I do with my children and feel the difference, too.
I highly suggest giving mediation a try. If you are like me and have problems clearing your mind, there are free apps you can download using a smart device that will walk you through everything and help you with your mediation.
Consider a parenting class
If you find yourself yelling at your kids or reacting in negative ways, a parenting class may be something to consider. Select a parenting class that fits your parenting style, and remember, it’s okay to attend multiple classes until you find one you like.
Don’t blame your parents
Dealing with childhood trauma can be difficult, and many have a natural tendency to blame their parents, but doing so doesn’t fix anything. Overcoming childhood trauma requires you to recognize there is a problem without necessarily placing blame. Realize that many parents raise their children similar to the way they were raised, so the possibility of multi-generational ACEs is high. Rather than placing blame, focus on overcoming your own childhood trauma and mitigating ACEs for your kids.
Try creating family rituals
Creating rituals with your family can help you build better, close and more loving relationships with your child. Rituals can be anything that involves spending time together – reading at bedtime, taking a walk, game night, even doing the dishes together can be a great way to spend time with your children. At the end of the day, time is the most valuable thing we can give someone. Giving them our time is a great way to show someone how important they are to you.
To protect children from ACEs, they need protective factors to build resilience such as:
- Strong, supportive, loving and resilient parents
- Parents who talk to their children
- Parents who read to their children
- Healthy relationships with parents, family members, and friends
- Communications skills
- Learning how to make good choices and why they are important.
- Good parenting strategies
- Avoid yelling at and spanking your children
- Have discussions about why your child should behave a certain way when you are both able to calmly sit down together.
Remember being a caring and supportive parent is knowing when to ask for help
Whether for yourself or your child, don’t be scared to ask for help when you need it. Small lifestyle changes may be all a child needs to heal from or avoid toxic stress, but sometimes you may need may need outside input or assistance. It’s important to ask for help when you need it.
If you are doing everything you can to be a supportive and caring parent, but your child is still showing signs of toxic stress — including headaches and tummy aches, crying more than normal, regressing to bed-wetting, developing new fears, baby talk, becoming extra clingy or frequent sleep issues — don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help. Speak with you child’s pediatrician about your options for counseling, therapy and more.
If you recognize that your child has been exposed to toxic stress, begin taking steps now to help them heal. The sooner you recognize it and take the proper steps, the better their recovery will be.
Are your children going through trauma? Learning more about toxic stress will help them heal.
To learn more about childhood trauma how it affects health across a lifetime, watch the below video and visit StressHealth.org.