The goal with regard to Adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) should be primary prevention and protection of children as well as strengthening the generation to come by building resilience to help them thrive and live their best possible lives (Ryan and Waite, 2020). Protective and compensatory experiences (PACE’s) in childhood lead to greater resilience and emotion regulation (Hays-Grudo and Morris, 2020). Evidence shows that relationships and resources provide the nurture needed for successful development. Relationship factors include: Unconditional love from a primary caregiver; having a best friend; volunteering in the community; being part of a social group; having the support of an adult outside the family (mentor, coach). Resources identified included: living in a clean and safe home with enough food; having the resources and opportunities to learn; having an engaging hobby, artistic, creative or intellectual pursuit; being part of organised sports and/or having regular physical activity; being part of a family with routines and fair rules. Resources give access to enriching opportunities.
Like ACE’s, PACE’s tend to co-occur (Hays-Grudo and Morris, 2020). Decades of research confirms that responsive, nurturing parenting is one of the strongest predictors of well-being. When parents withdraw love because a child behaves badly it sends a message that love is dependent on behaviour and performance, inducing guilt and shame that can lead to depression and anxiety over time. Love sets the foundation for character, self-esteem and confidence. For children with ACE’s, responsive and sensitive caregiving fosters healing. When children are young, friends provide the opportunity to learn through play and interaction as they try out new skills. Friends reduce stress and provide fun and support. These relationships are important in social and emotional development.
Helping others provides a sense of connection to community (Hays-Grudo and Morris, 2020). Volunteering helps children learn about others needs and many studies link it with prosocial development and lasting positive developmental outcomes. It cultivates empathy, altruism and learning that being kind and generous is part of living well. Volunteering also provides opportunities to develop leadership and confidence that one has something to contribute. This kind of social action is particularly impactful if done with parents, where parents model giving of themselves.
Being a member of a group helps develop identity, values and morals (Hays-Grudo and Morris, 2020). Extracurricular school activities are associated with lower school drop-out, lower rates of substance abuse and arrests amongst at risk youth. Teens with caring adults in their life are less likely to experience distress. Relationships with caring adults can prevent children from engaging in high-risk behaviour. Even if a child has good parents an adult outside the home provides an additional source of information about the world and an alternative role-model. An ‘adult advocate’ or mentor is someone a child can turn to for advice when they are not comfortable speaking to a parent. Evidence across many disciplines shows that quality education is one of the greatest predictors of happiness and success – particularly early childhood education programmes – and build resilience amongst children who have already experienced ACE’s.
Organised activities teach discipline and self-regulation and can lead to a sense of mastery, competence and self-esteem (Hays-Grudo and Morris, 2020). Creative hobbies provide a means of expression and identity exploration and allow children to have a voice and get recognition. They can create social connections and teach children persistence and coping skills for challenges. Hobbies can also provide a sense of routine, security and mastery motivation. Daily practice can help children learn the value of repetition and improvement. Research shows that building competence and connections through hobbies and shared activities can be an effective treatment for children with a trauma history. Organised sports and physical activity also create a sense of mastery and connection. Young children need to engage in active, physical play and exploration which facilitates learning. Physical activity helps children handle physiological stress and improve mental health. Sports can help social development, self-regulation and boost self-esteem and competence. Team sport participation in adolescence is linked with better long-term mental health for those with histories of adversity.
Authoritative parents resemble parents of securely attached infants in that they are warm supportive and predictable (Hays-Grudo and Morris, 2020). Both provide the foundation of unconditional love, the first PACE. Authoritarian, permissive and neglectful parenting are linked with poorer outcomes, while authoritative parents are linked with better outcomes in childhood and later in life.
Hays-Grudo, J., & Morris, A. S. (2020). Adverse and protective childhood experiences: A developmental perspective. American Psychological Association.
Waite, R., & Ryan, R. A. (2019). Adverse childhood experiences: What students and health professionals need to know. Routledge.