How kids’ lives suffer from negative life experiences

How kids’ lives suffer from negative life experiences

Children are often easily influenced by those closest to them. A new report, published in Health Affairs journal, explained that children who were exposed to negative experiences such as a family divorce, abuse in the household or parental substance abuse, were more likely to have a range of chronic health problems and lower rates of school engagement.

Researchers from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health evaluated data from the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, a survey that encompassed more than 95,000 parents of children under the age of 17 and asked questions about the following nine adverse childhood experiences. Some of the questions included extreme economic hardship, parental divorce/separation, treated or judged unfairly due to race/ethnicity and the death of a parent, just to name a few.

Research found that 48 percent of United States children suffered at least one of nine key adverse childhood experiences and 22 percent of children had two or more of the nine adverse experiences.  The study went on to report that children with two or more adverse childhood experiences were more than two times likely to repeat a grade in school compared to other children with no negative experiences.

“Disorganization, trauma or a lack of support at home can certainly be linked to one’s ability to focus in school,” says Dr. Gabrielle Roberts, clinical psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill. “Children whose families are experiencing economic hardship, for example, lack of sufficient food or a quiet place to do homework, may be emotionally overwhelmed by family circumstances, all of which can ultimately have a negative impact on a child’s grades.”

While she says, “there is no one size fits all approach,” Dr. Roberts offers the following tips for parents on how they can help their child cope with a negative life experience:

  • Communication: Parents should talk to their child to ask and hear what they are feeling. It is important to let the child know that it is okay to talk about his or her thoughts and feelings. If the subject is difficult, it is important for parents to be composed and in control of their emotions as much as possible, but if parents do cry or become visibly upset in front of the child, that can be used as an opportunity to model and discuss the healthy expression of emotions. Parents should also enlist help from other family members and friends as needed to support the child.
  • Accept help from the community: When appropriate, parents should alert their child’s school if they are undergoing a traumatic situation at home. Teachers can keep an extra eye out for the child and have an understanding as to why the child may be distracted.
  • Coping skills: Children need to have good coping mechanisms when feeling angry or sad. Some children might enjoy reading or coloring to cope with a negative experience, while other children might like to talk to a parent about how they are feeling. Parents can help their child identify and practice coping skills.
  • Positive Influences: The child should be surrounded by some positive influences and able to engage in normal kid activities. Despite any traumatic experience, children should have fun times with their family or friends.
  • Ask for help when needed: Parents should not feel ashamed of reaching out to a professional to help their child. Clinical psychologists, psychiatrists or therapists are trained to help kids and families cope with adverse experiences.

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  1. It is no surprise that children who grow up in a household with parents who are constantly arguing and hostile to one another do not fare well compared to their counterparts who grow up in a loving, yelling-free environment. I wish more parents would think about this article the next time they get into a screaming match with their partner in front of their children!

  2. I grew up in a household where I was yelled at, or heard my parents yelling at each other “because of me”, I was slapped, punched, whipped with a belt, etc. There was no room for talking or sharing. There were no such things as “coping skills”. Also, “anything that went on in the house stayed in the house”.

  3. This topic has great value!

  4. This all incredibly true. Thank you so much for bring up this sensitive subject.

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About the Author

Julie Nakis
Julie Nakis

Julie Nakis, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. She earned her BA in communications from the University of Iowa – Go Hawkeyes! In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, exploring the city and cheering on the Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks.