The Benefits of Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs)

Our community often talks about Adverse Childhood Experiences, especially how they tie to mental health and other issues throughout our lives. I’ve talked before about how we shouldn’t see a high ACE score as fate because it’s just percentages, and I worry that we are writing kids off due to a lot of childhood trauma.

What I’ve not written enough about is the research that shows what kind of impact positive experiences can have. Yesterday, I found this article by Jennifer Adaeze Okwerekwu, a psychiatrist, who wants us to talk more about this. In her words:

But just as negative experiences have a detrimental impact on a child’s long-term health, positive experiences — ones that cultivate a sense of stability, safety, and connectedness have a protective effect and can neutralize some of the damage caused by toxic stress. We talk a lot about ACEs in health care, especially when it comes to the health disparities experienced by the Black community. I wish we could talk more about PCEs, too. By focusing only on the negative, I fear we are giving parents — and adults who are grappling with their own childhood trauma — the false impression that prevention is the only way to mitigate the health consequences of adverse childhood experiences.

Prevention is important. I am not arguing against that. But prevention doesn’t help the kid who’s already been abused, has been growing up in poverty, or has experienced any number of adverse events.

What do we have to offer those kids beyond a message about how their already-high ACE score likely means they have a lifetime of poor outcomes to look forward to? It turns out we have a lot to offer them. By creating positive experiences, we can start to undo the damage and create a preventative buffer to help avoid further adverse events.

We already know this works for prevention: Kids with solid and safe attachments are less likely to be groomed. Kids from vulnerable backgrounds are most at risk of abuse and trafficking.

Kids who score high for ACEs can get a head start on healing by having more positive experiences where they are safe, loved, and out of vulnerable situations. We should figure out how to help kids have more of that as a society.

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