An interesting study recently looked at the competing effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and positive childhood experiences (PCEs). There are quite a few research articles about the effects of ACEs and PCEs on individual health, but this one took a different tack in surveying the effects on family health. In defining that term, the researchers measured “family emotional and social health processes, family healthy lifestyle, family health resources, and family external social supports.” The survey asked participants to rate statements such as
• “In my family, I feel safe in my family relationships”
• “In my family, we help each other avoid unhealthy habits”
• “In my family, we have people outside of our family we can turn to when we have problems at school or work”, and
• “In my family, a lack of health insurance would prevent us from asking for medical help.”
The researchers surveyed 1030 individuals using standard scales for ACEs, PCEs, and family health measures. They found that high ACEs scores correlated with low family health scores. The positive news is that high PCEs scores not only correlated with high family health scores, but seemed to counterbalance the ACEs scores. “[W]hen accounting for PCEs, ACEs were not associated with family healthy lifestyle nor with family external social supports. Conversely, regardless of ACE score, PCEs were positively associated with all four family health domains.”
This study has some limitations, in that it relied on a self-selecting sample and subjective memories. But it falls in line with other research showing that PCEs can help children overcome the effects of trauma in their lives. Foster parents and stepparents may not be able to prevent childhood trauma, but we can help foster positive experiences. We can provide positive role models and emotional support, while we strengthen family relationships and social support networks. This study is a reminder that our providing those things will boost resilience and help our kids heal from trauma.