Preventing Harm from Adverse Childhood Experiences

Apr 30, 2021, 12:04 PM by Dr. Patricia Beach


April is Child Abuse Prevention Month #preventchildabuse  #BeAConnection

Learning about the potential impact of adverse experiences during childhood may be very anxiety-provoking for parents, particularly if you and your children are just recovering from significant difficulties.  But take heart-there are many things you can do to minimize the negative impact, or even build resilience and bolster your child’s confidence.  Families can create safe, nurturing environments even after experiencing adversity!


 Demonstrate and experience positive relationships.  A good rule of thumb for is to practice active listening more than talking!   Communication should be respectful and loving. Feedback what you heard. (“I think I heard you say that…”) If there is a problematic relationship within the family (or ex-family!) avoid the temptation to express contempt.  Instead identify traits of people that you admire and complement children when they display those traits. Try to name the bad habits you wish to avoid without assigning blame if possible.  If you must identify the person, such as a peer, whose behaviors concern you, do so gently and respectfully.


   It is sometimes difficult to understand when discipline crosses the line and becomes overly harsh.  Family members should all have similar expectations and rules of behavior.  Discipline should center on loss of privileges (such as screen time) or time out.  Punishments which are demeaning, painful or belittling can leave invisible scars, and can escalate over time to abusive levels.  Remain calm-avoid yelling-and remember that every trip to the time-out chair is a learning opportunity!  Make loss of privileges like phone or screen time brief because YOU are the one who will have to monitor it, and that can be exhausting.  


 Demonstrate that you value academics, but learn to value accomplishments in the areas of your child’s interests and strengths.  Be prepared to value music or art over math or social studies. It is fine to have minimal expectations, but you should be prepared to help in the areas you in which your child struggles.  Doing well in school protects children from the effects of adverse experiences.  School and community-based activities can be a great sources of satisfaction for children and can lead to the development of positive friend and peer networks, which is also protective.  Advanced education or career training can lead to a more stable environment for our children as they mature.

Get help   If your child has experienced violence or a significant loss, get counseling with a child oriented professional who uses developmentally appropriate trauma-based therapies.  Sometimes these resources are available at school.  Alternatively, parents who have experienced violence or loss may also benefit greatly from therapy or social supports for themselves.  Parents who have active substance use disorder, including alcohol and prescription drugs, should acknowledge their problem and seek help immediately. Do not continue to tolerate traumatic or destructive behaviors in your family out of fear or dependency.

Have fun!   Families that engage in fun, positive activities also weather difficulties better.  Activities need not be costly.  Parents should combine a reasonable amount of family work and play.  Realize that effort necessary for young children to successfully “work” (for example, pick up their toys) may be greater than the effort required to do it yourself, but the outcome may be some pretty desirable habits!

Enjoy your children!  Do not protect them from every challenge but support them through their difficulties. Listen a lot.  Spend fun time together.  Demonstrate the behaviors you want them to learn.  Share positive values.
 By Patricia Beach, MD

Professor, Division of General Academic Pediatrics
Director, Child Safety and Protection Team
University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB)

Published 4/13/2021

Violence Prevention (ACES) -, "ACEs Adverse Childhood Experience

Also see:
Week 1 ACEs Article:  "What is all this Stuff about Adverse Childhood Experiences?" on 4/1/2021

Week 2 ACEs Article:  "Toxic Stress and the Long Term Effects of ACEs on Children" on 4/7/2021
Week 3 The Lifelong Effects of Early Childhood Adversity and Toxic Stress - AAP PEDIATRICS

More about Child Abuse Prevention Month -  

UTMB Health Primary Care Pediatrics

AAP Schedule of Well-Child Care Visits & Benefits
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