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Understanding the Impact of Trauma on Young Children

Children’s Mental Health

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) are potentially traumatic events experienced in childhood. Experiencing traumatic events in childhood is linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (“Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences”, 2019), about 61% of adults report experiencing at least one type of Adverse Childhood experience. 

The types of ACES are categorized into 3 groups: Abuse, Neglect, and Household Challenges (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “About the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study”, 2019). These categories are further explained with the following examples below. 
•    Emotional Abuse
•    Physical Abuse
•    Sexual Abuse
•    Physical neglect
•    Emotional neglect 
Household Challenges
•    Mother treated violently
•    Substance abuse in the household
•    Mental illness in the household
•    Parental separation or divorce
•    Incarcerated household member

Why is this information important? Chances are that each of us come into contact with children who have had one or more adverse childhood experiences. Even one positive, nurturing, and safe relationship with an adult, can make a huge difference for these children. 

Protective factors, especially safe, stable, and nurturing relationships, can help foster resiliency and lessen the impact of ACEs. According to the Minnesota Department of Health (Resilience to ACEs), protective factors help a child feel safe more quickly after experiencing the toxic stress of ACEs and help to neutralize the physical changes that naturally occur during and after the trauma. Other protective factors they mention include:
•    Parent resilience
•    Caregiver knowledge and application of positive parenting skills
•    Identifying and cultivating a sense of purpose (faith, culture, identity)
•    Individual developmental competencies (problem solving skills, self–regulation, agency)
•    Children’s social and emotional health
•    Social connections
•    Socioeconomic advantages and concrete support for parents and families
•    Communities and social systems that support health and development, and nurture human capital

For more information on building a positive, healthy, and nurturing relationship with your child, visit the CDC’s webpage, Essentials for Parenting Toddler and Preschoolers at

Emily Jensby, LCMFT, RPT became a Mental Health Specialist at Rainbows United in September of 2018. She currently works in local child care centers where she provides classroom consultation services for teachers and individual therapeutic services to children and their families.