Creating Positive Childhood Experiences

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Healthy and happy childhoods start now. Learn how you can help!

Young children experience the world through their relationships with parents and other caregivers. Children and families thrive when they have access to safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. These relationships and environments are the key to creating positive childhood experiences.

What are adverse childhood experiences?

Early negative events impact the health and well-being of children and the adults they become. These negative events are known as adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. ACEs are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood. For example:

  • experiencing violence or abuse
  • witnessing violence
  • having a family member attempt or die by suicide

ACEs also include aspects of the environment like growing up in a household with:

  • substance misuse
  • mental health problems
  • instability due to parental separation or household members being in jail or prison

Some adversity and stress are normal and can even be helpful so that children learn how to react to future challenges. However, if children are repeatedly exposed to adversities like abuse and neglect and unstable relationships or environments, they may experience toxic stress.

Toxic stress, or prolonged and repeated stress, can change a child’s brain development and increase the risk for problems like post-traumatic stress disorder and learning, attention, and memory difficulties. Children growing up with toxic stress may have difficulty forming healthy and stable relationships. They may also have unstable work histories as adults and struggle with finances and depression throughout life. Read more about the impacts of ACEs on adult health and wellbeing.

What are child abuse and neglect?

Child abuse and neglect are ACEs and include all types of abuse and neglect against a child under the age of 18 by a parent, caregiver, or another person in a custodial role (such as a religious leader, a coach, a teacher) that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. There are four common types of child abuse and neglect:

  • Physical abuse
    Examples include hitting, kicking, shaking, or other shows of force against a child.
  • Sexual abuse
    Examples include behaviors such as fondling, penetration, and exposing a child to other sexual activities. Please see CDC’s Preventing Child Sexual Abuse webpage for more information.
  • Emotional abuse
    Examples include name calling, shaming, rejection, withholding love, and threatening.
  • Neglect
    Examples include failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs such as housing, food, clothing, education, and access to medical care.
Facts about child abuse and neglect

Child abuse and neglect are common.

  • At least 1 in 7 children have experienced child abuse and/or neglect in the past year, and this is likely an underestimate.

Children living in poverty experience more abuse and neglect.

  • Rates of child abuse and neglect are 5 times higher for children in families with low socio-economic status.

Child abuse and neglect and other ACEs have a tremendous impact on lifelong health and wellbeing.

  • Exposure to violence in childhood increases the risks of future violence victimization and perpetration, substance misuse, chronic health conditions, lower educational attainment, and limited employment opportunities.

Prevention is possible

The good news is prevention is possible. Everyone can help prevent child abuse and neglect and promote positive childhood experiences by supporting children and families where you live and work.

Parents and caregivers:
Parenting is hard work! There are many things you can do to create positive childhood experiences.

  • Establish a routine. Children feel secure and thrive when the environment is structured for them.
  • Praise your child when she does something right. The more you praise a behavior, the more likely it is your child will behave the same way again.
  • Pay attention to your child when he is trying to communicate with you. Giving him your full attention will make him feel like you care about what he has to say.
  • Set aside time each day to talk and play with your child. Creating a special time lets your child know she is important and strengthens the bond between the two of you.

We know that every child and every parent is unique. You may face many different situations and challenges every day. It’s ok to ask for help.

  • Reach out to babysitters, family members, or close friends.
  • Discuss your concerns with your child’s doctor.
  • Find out if your community offers support groups or programs parents and caregivers.

Friends, family, and neighbors:
As a friend or neighbor, you can develop nurturing, supportive relationships with the children in your life. Offer to babysit, make a meal, or drive a parent or child where they need to go.

Coworkers:
As a coworker, you can listen and support your colleagues by encouraging them to take breaks or seek additional help if needed. You can also offer to help with their workload.

Everyone:
We can all recognize challenges that families face and offer support and encouragement to reduce stress. Everyone can promote social norms that discourage violence and help ensure the safety of all members of a community.

  • Let people know that violence is unacceptable and steps will be taken to protect the victim of violence.
  • Encourage people to stand up and speak up, if they can safely do so, when a person is being harassed or hurt or needs support.

We can also support community programs and policies that provide safe and healthy conditions for all children and families.

  • Examples include supporting family friendly work policies like paid leave and flexible work schedules and supporting policies that strengthen household financial security based on the best available evidence.

Working together, we can help create neighborhoods, communities, and a world in which every child can thrive.

Resources

CDC’s Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Resources
CDC’s web page that contains child abuse and neglect prevention resources.

Child Development
CDC’s Web page that includes information on developmental milestones, screening, and positive parenting.

Developmental Milestones
CDC’s Interactive web resource developed to support parents and caregivers understand important child development milestones.

Parenting Portal
This portal has information from across all of CDC, covering everything from safety at home and the community to immunization schedules.

We Can Prevent ACEs Video

CDC’s VetoViolence Facebook Page