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Understanding childhood stress

Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, are common causes of stress and can have a big impact on total health into adulthood. But ACEs can be prevented and addressed.

What are ACEs?

ACEs are different traumatic and stressful situations that can impact children and teens under the age of 18 worldwide. They include physical and psychological abuse and dysfunction like mental illness, criminal behavior, domestic violence, and substance abuse in the child’s home. Other types of ACEs include gun violence, bullying, neighborhood safety, and immigration issues.

ACEs rates in the U.S. https://findyourwords.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/infographic-5-m@2x.png

Many ACEs are linked to increased physical and emotional problems in adulthood. But problems can also appear much earlier. Trauma-related childhood behavior can be hard to notice and easy to misread. For example, children with ACEs may be aggressive, defensive, withdrawn, or disconnected.

How can your community help?

Your community can offer five types of help. https://findyourwords.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/group-15@2x-1.png

How you can help

The good news is that ACEs are manageable in your day-to-day life too. Safe, stable relationships and youth-nurturing environments can help prevent ACEs and protect against future distress for children who may have already experienced adversity.* You can:

  • Manage your own stress. Let your children know that your stress is not their fault.
  • Make sure their basic needs are met. They should be eating healthy and being active every day.
  • Help them build healthy, stable relationships with friends and trusted adults.
  • Learn healthy ways to manage your child’s behavior.
  • Give them room to share their feelings, and help them express the bad ones in a healthy way.

With or without ACEs, children and teens may seek guidance on their emotional well-being. Start with the above to help children identify and manage their mental health concerns.


*Vincent J. Felitti, MD et al. “Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 14, Issue 4, May 1998, Pages 245–258, doi.org/10.1016/S0749-3797(98)00017-8.

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