This post is made possible with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All opinions are my own
Parenting is not easy. We all know we are all going to make some mistakes while raising our kids. Our parents made mistakes, and some of their mistakes might haunt us now as adults. However, we are not destined to make the same mistakes with our kids. At least, I want to believe that.
As a parent, I always worry about making some of the mistakes my parents made to which I attribute the need for having to see a therapist today. I grew up in Colombia with a very protective dad. Like most Hispanic dads, he was raised believing in physical punishment to teach lessons. Whenever we were not “behaving,” we got punished with a belt or with a shoe hitting us on the arms or our butts. Sometimes we got hit with whatever he had in his hand because when he got upset, he threw it at us.
Although back then I was relying on a few adults for support, there wasn’t much they could do for me. I grew up with anger and fear. I grew up learning that reacting with anger was the way to protect myself and that has affected my relationships to the point that I sought help from a therapist to learn how to communicate with people without reacting aggressively.
Right now, I understand that it was not my dad’s fault. He did what he saw his parents do. But I also understand that I can break the cycle of ACEs across generations and have learned that giving my son timeouts or taking away toys that he loves are great ways to correct my son’s behavior. What else am I doing to help my son? I am making sure he has a support system of grown-ups to talk to and help him through difficult times on those occasions when he might be frustrated with me. Those support systems provide safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments (SSNREs), which every child needs to buffer traumatic experiences.
While talking to my friend about ACEs, she told me that we all suffer trauma when we’re kids, and she doesn’t see how those things that happen to us as kids would still affect us as adults. She thinks as we grow up, we can just shake off those memories and move on. I showed her a video that shows that many who are incarcerated have been affected by hardships and adverse experiences in their childhood. She couldn’t believe it. Now she is interested in learning about ACEs and learning how they can be prevented. Here is the video I shared with her (warning, have tissues with you while watching it)
I guess until this point, this post has been sad and depressing. I get it, but I needed to make you feel that way before telling you the good news. I am sharing with you one of my favorite quotes from Peter Levine: "Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence". You aren't destined to repeat the same mistakes your parents made. You can get support to break the cycle of ACEs across generations in your family. ACEs are preventable!
The other good news is that you can help change someone’s childhood. You can become someone’s three and support them. When you become someone’s three YOU play a role in building a safe, stable, and nurturing relationship for them.
You can also help your kids find their three so they can talk about their issues. Be proactive—you can help prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) !