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Help Prepare Your Child to Handle Difficulties

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events that can have a lifelong impact on children and serious consequences. ACEs can include things such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse; humiliating experiences; neglect; and witnessing acts of domestic violence. For more examples of ACEs, click here.

It’s crucial to build resiliency in children so they can learn to cope with stressful situations now and into adulthood. A Center for Disease Control (CDC) study shows that exposure to ACEs can lead to health and social problems as an adult. In the CDC study of more than 17,000 people, 60 percent had been exposed to at least one ACE and more than 20 percent had been exposed to three or more.

ACEs and Health Risks

The more ACEs people are exposed to, the higher their risk is for health and psychological problems such as heart disease, cancer and depression. For more information on health problems that can emerge from ACEs and the toxic stress they can cause, click here.

Life can be challenging and may include many stressful situations. Resilience is the ability to navigate through those challenges and find ways to bounce back and thrive. Helping build resiliency in your child is critical so they learn to cope with difficult situations and feel confident about themselves and their future. The best things you can do are be loving and nurturing with your child and build a close relationship with them. Feeling loved and wanted builds resilience that can help anyone steer through difficult times.

Here are some ways parents can build resiliency in children:

Draw from your own life experiences. Don’t be afraid to talk about your past. What you have learned about how to overcome adversity and protect yourself may help your children do the same.

Expose your children to healthy experiences and make them feel protected. One of the most important things a parent can do is spend time with their child and let the child know he or she is loved, has a purpose in life, and that there are people to go to and count on if bad things happen. Resiliency develops when the child has “protective factors” like a shield to protect them from ACEs. Here are examples of what helps form that shield:

  • Parents who are strong, loving, supportive and resilient themselves
  • Parents who read, sing and talk to their children
  • Having healthy relationships with parents, family members and friends
  • Learning good communication skills
  • Learning why and how to make good choices
  • Having safe, supportive and nurturing learning environments
  • Having good nutrition and the right amount of sleep and exercise

Set rules and limits. Children want and need you to teach them what is allowed. Then, if they continue to behave inappropriately, redirect them toward positive behaviors. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Avoid yelling and screaming.
  • When calm, have discussions about why they should behave a certain way.
  • Be consistent. It is stressful to hear mixed messages. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it.
  • Avoid exposure to violence in the media, at home and in the community. Otherwise, children will learn to think violence is normal.

Help your child build confidence. When people have confidence in themselves, it helps them respond to challenges with resilience. Encourage your child to keep on trying when they become frustrated. Let them know that mistakes are OK and emphasize their strengths, which will boost their confidence much better than pointing out their limitations.

Be mindful of your child’s environment. Don’t let your child grow up in a home where they are repeatedly exposed to people who are physically or emotionally hurt.

Listen to your child’s needs and fears. You may need to adjust daily activities to help them through a rough period. Always give your child support and reassurance. Let your child know that you and other supportive adults are always available.

Don’t feel embarrassed to ask for help. If ACEs are causing problems in your home, talk to family members, trusted friends or a professional. Your pediatrician or health care provider can review your individual situation and recommend resources.

Additional Resources

The Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics provides strategies for caregivers concerning ACEs and toxic stress.

The CDC offers a wealth of information on the impact of ACEs.

Don’t hesitate to seek help by calling the Parent Helpline: 1-800-CHILDREN or 1-800-356-6767. The Parent Helpline is a 24/7, toll-free number for supportive listening, information and referrals for families experiencing problems, or if parents just need to talk to someone.


Watch this video to see how families and communities can help build resiliency in children: