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Positive Childhood Experiences Are Linked to Emotional Health and Resilience—Even in Households Experiencing Trauma

Photo credit: Chelsea Conrad

For decades, pediatric research has focused on negative childhood experiences (NCEs) and their effects on children’s wellbeing. Until recently, however, positive childhood experiences (PCEs) went mostly unstudied. Now that’s beginning to change, and the findings are encouraging to say the least.

The negative consequences of trauma on children are hardly news: for many years, researchers have been amassing evidence that family conflict, abuse, exposure to violence and other negative experiences can increase a child’s likelihood of experiencing chronic physical or mental illness, difficulty concentrating in school, and other long-term problems.

But starting in 2019, researchers have been asking the inverse question: if these negative experiences can do so much harm, can positive experiences mitigate or even protect against that harm?

The preliminary indications suggest the answer is yes. Investigators have found remarkable correlations between people’s long-term wellbeing and a childhood in which they felt safe, free to talk about their feelings, and engaged with caring adults, friends, or the wider community.

The numbers are striking. As reported in the Washington Post, the risk of serious mental health issues dropped by 72 percent for adults reporting six or seven such positive experiences, and by 50 percent for those reporting three to five.

Importantly, those benefits did not disappear in households where conflict, divorce, poverty or other stress factors were present. As one researcher put it, “the absence of the positive” appears to be more damaging than the presence of negative factors in a child’s life.

The Post article includes a fascinating discussion of the kinds of positive experiences adults can share with a child (reading is a standout). It’s great to see hard evidence of what both lived experience and common sense might suggest: that those early, positive experiences really are gifts that keep on giving.

Read the whole article at this link.


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