What Hand Were You Dealt? Happy or Turbulent Childhood?

Four AcesIn many ways life can be a lot like playing cards and unfortunately many of us as children were dealt a hand that was less than ideal and loaded with “ACES” or adverse childhood experiences.  The experiences of our childhoods—both the good and the not so good influence the adult we become.

From our childhood, we develop traits and skills that prepare us to be effective in the world. We also develop the capacity to adapt in the face of challenges.   We call this capacity to respond in a positive way— resiliency.  Resilience is complex; it is possible to be resilient in one setting and to do very poorly in another. It is our ability to bounce back when faced with a variety of challenges.

Research is clear that the effects of negative early childhood experiences don’t end when a child becomes an adult.   The more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that a child experiences, the greater the risk for health problems, mental illness, and substance abuse as an adult (Felitti et al., 1998). It can be easy to blame your childhood, to get stuck on situations and circumstances that were beyond your ability to change.  We need to learn that one cannot re-write their childhood history but writing your future and your child’s future is possible.    There is hope.  Change is possible.  Communities and families can learn to break the cycle of negative childhood experiences from one generation to the next.

All parents want a better life for their children.  But many parents are not always sure how to create a better life.  Fortunately, early childhood advocates are starting conversations to help parents achieve resiliency and develop a plan for a better life for themselves and their children.  .

There are numerous conversations starting in Iowa around the concept of adverse childhood experiences and creating a resiliency culture for adults and children alike.  I encourage you to reach out and find out what your community is doing.  Get involved!


Janet Smith

Janet Smith is a Human Science Specialist-Family LIfe with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She currently provides family life programming in eight counties in southeast Iowa. Janet is a "parenting survivor". She is the mother of Jared-21, Hannah-20, and Cole-15. She and her husband, David have faced many challenges together, including their son Jared's Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis.

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