For many of us, it is easy to see how our childhood experiences influence our adult choices, behaviors, and preferences. Perhaps you like basketball because all the kids on your street played together after school. Or you learned to cook by helping a beloved grandparent make special family meals. Years spent in a scouting program can create a lasting love of exploration. Examples of positive experiences are endless and unique to each of us.
In the same way, stressful or traumatic childhood events also have lasting impact. The importance of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or “ACEs”, was first discovered 20 years ago as a result of a large-scale research study led by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The resulting ACEs screening tool established a way to gauge the cumulative effect of different types of childhood abuse, neglect or stressful events.
While adverse childhood experiences are very common, as the number of ACEs experienced by a child increase, so does that child’s risk for chronic disease as an adult. Unfortunately, as documented in the Indiana Youth Institute’s September data brief, Hoosier youth have a higher prevalence than their peers nationally in eight of out nine ACEs as measured by the National Survey of Children’s Health.
The good news is that the earlier we can identify a child’s ACEs score, the sooner we can connect them to services to prevent, reverse, or heal the effects. Both physicians and educators are building systems to screen and respond to ACEs.
In many cases, positive childhood experiences can mitigate the stressful or traumatic events. All children need adults that support, trust and love them. Caring adults, whether parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches or mentors, are key to helping children build long-term resilience.
Find more information about ACEs from the following resources:
Indiana Youth Institute ACEs Data Brief
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
American Academy of Pediatrics
The cumulative effect of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) has a lifelong impact on children. As the number of ACEs increases, there is a greater likelihood of negative wellbeing outcomes such as obesity, depression, and other chronic conditions throughout life.
What are ACEs? Adverse childhood experiences are stressful or traumatic events occurring in childhood and are used to assess the long-term impact of abuse and household dysfunction on later-life health.
- Nearly half (47.3%) of Hoosier children have experienced one or more ACEs.
- Indiana has a higher prevalence of children experiencing at least one ACE (47.3%) than half of our neighboring states: Illinois (39.7%), Michigan (46.2%), Ohio (49.5%), and Kentucky (53.1%).
- Hoosier youth have a higher prevalence than their peers nationally in eight of out nine ACEs as measured by the National Survey of Children’s Health.
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What are your goals for 2018? For adults, the most popular resolutions include exercise more, quit smoking, learn a new skill, and manage money better. What about for kids? Should they also be making New Year’s resolutions? Studies show child goal setting can build their resilience, confidence and motivation. Yet it is important that we understand how goal setting is different for children. With the right approach and tools, building our children’s ability to set appropriate goals can put them on a path to long-term success.
As caring adults, we can set the conditions for our children to learn the benefits of goal setting. In fact, experts agree that most children learn how to set goals by continually watching their parents and mentors. Teaching children how to set and achieve goals helps them learn the values of reflection and self-improvement. And reflective self-improvement, also called a growth mindset, has been found to be a better predictor of future success than IQ.
To be effective, children must drive the goal-setting process. To ensure that the goals are truly those of the child and not a reflection of adult overreach, caring adults must play a supporting role, allowing the child to identify their unique goals. One approach, the ABCs of Goal Setting, from Psychology Today, highlights that goals should be achievable and believable, while involving personal commitment. EdWeek proposes a simple “noun plus verb” structure, such as “read every night” or “attend homework groups.” With any approach, it’s important to review plans regularly and to anticipate that setbacks may occur and adjustments will be needed.
While goal setting can be started with children as young as 3 or 4, it is important to adjust the approach based on the child’s age. At any age, start the conversation by simply asking children what they would like to do this year. Michelle Borba, parenting expert and author of the recent book “UnSelfie,” suggests then using this formula: “I will” plus “what,” “when” and “how.” For younger kids, the formula simplifies to “I will” plus “what.” Goals such as learning to tie shoes or memorize simple addition facts are realistic for little ones and can later grow to be more complex.
Psychology Today says a key in goal setting is to listen to the child and focus on the process of improvement rather than the product. We also can help by ensuring that our kids don’t set too many goals or select goals that are too complex or too simplistic. Many experts suggest that by selecting goals that are just out of reach we can teach children to try new things.
At the same time, kids need to see and understand that self-improvement takes time and that setbacks are normal. Show them the struggles you’ve encountered to reach your own goals. There are many great biographies, such as those of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and many Olympic athletes, that highlight the essential connection between goals, failure and success.
Goal setting holds the promise of helping kids in many parts of their lives, and experts recommend looking beyond academics. When youth are overscheduled and stressed, they may need to identify goals and action steps that foster relaxation and fun as part of their lives. Borba recommends we promote this balance by helping children set and achieve character goals. Character goals aim at cultivating “we-thinkers” instead of “me-thinkers,” helping kids become better individuals and community members through building traits such as caring, courtesy, respect, patience, generosity and truthfulness. Another way to reinforce the importance of these character goals is for the entire family to identify and work towards a shared goal, such as listening more or reaching out to elderly relatives.
In 2018, instead of just telling your child they are smart, you can teach them that they are capable of taking on challenges that can result in growth. Listen to their goals, help them define the larger strategy and necessary daily actions, then provide lots of cheering, encouragement in the face of setbacks, and unconditional support. As we aim to grow and nurture our future leaders, goal setting may be the key to building motivated, resilient and hopeful kids. And it’s a goal we can all share.
(Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI)
• Psychology Today: The ABCs of Goal Setting
• EdWeek: 10 Tips for Setting Successful Goals
• Dr. Michele Borba: Helping Kids Become Goal Setters