Sara believes that life presents various opportunities to open a door of exploration. To shine a light on repeated patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving - so that we can live our best lives.
We’re all dealt a hand when we’re born. We don’t ask for it. It has nothing to do with us. And it can have a lifelong impact - on our health, both mental and physical, our opportunity, and on the likelihood of us experiencing future hostility (victimisation and perpetration).
In 1995–1997 a group of psychologists and doctors in America carried out a groundbreaking investigation into “adverse childhood experiences”. It is now famously known as “the ACE study”.
The study showed that for each adverse experience, the toll in damage later in life increases. Adverse experiences show up in adult suffering — socially, emotionally, financially or professionally, in physical and mental ill-health and in suicide. As the child grows up outwardly, they don’t automatically “outgrow” their damage. Instead their traumatic experiences get lost in time.
But ACEs should not be seen as someone’s destiny (thanks to therapy).
What is an “ACE”?
The ACE study revealed that traumatic life experiences during childhood and adolescence are surprisingly common — 66% of people reported something adverse in childhood. These include experiences that are obvious - parental divorce, mental health issues, aggression in the home, both physical or verbal - and mistreatment, whether neglect or physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse.
66% of people reported something adverse in childhood.
But trauma isn’t always obvious. And it doesn’t have to be big. It isn’t necessarily an event; it can be daily criticism, bullying, being unnoticed. Adverse experience can be small but cumulative.
Dealing a Good Hand
So bearing in mind that trauma can be cumulative, how do you deal your child the best possible cards so they have the best chance of being lucky in life?
The Ace - 0 to 1.5 years
Because we can’t remember our first two years, we might think they don’t matter. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our pre-verbal years are the core, instilling a sense of ourselves and our security through our core emotional needs being consistently met.
Infants are born extremely vulnerable and utterly dependent. Life is a medley of bodily sensations and emotions, and they’re not born with a capacity to self-regulate these. So at first we need to do that for them; holding them, offering comfort and soothing at times of distress through stroking and a calm soothing tone of voice. This stage is about being emotionally available and quite literally “showing up”. Hold them and notice them so you can respond in a timely way to their needs.
The King - 1.5 to 3 years
The years of separation and communication. As children actively start to individuate the focus should be on creating a consistent and supporting relationship as a “safe base”. While children toddle and test boundaries, having this constant and unshakeable sense of safety communicates the most important message of all – you are loved, accepted, and welcome as you are. Your feelings and needs are important to us.
The focus should be on creating a consistent and supporting relationship as a “safe base”.
As children find their voice, parents need to name and validate their emotions. Try using a tool called the Wheel of Feelings to practise together with your kids or as a family, a game where you name a feeling and share coping strategies and ways to express it.
The Queen - 3 to 6 years
As the child makes their way out into the world - to school and play dates - the role of parents is to create an environment that is safe and loving, where children can start learning independently. Model how to cope with various stressors and how to build close relationships, whilst allowing their uniqueness.
The Jack - 7 years+
Children don’t learn from what we tell them, they learn from what we do. An important part of ensuring that growing children are supported into their pre-teens is to look at our own daily life and behaviour. How do you prioritise your own wellbeing? How do you express your opinions and emotions? How do you relate to people? Are you consistent?
Children don’t learn from what we tell them, they learn from what we do.
It’s a tricky game whether you’re the dealer or the player. But with the right knowledge and support, parenting can create the kind of kids who hold the right cards to get lucky in life.