Boost school readiness for children with past trauma

Boost school readiness for children with past trauma

As a pediatrician and parent, I witness firsthand the ways in which reading, singing and storytelling benefit a child’s development. These early literacy developmental activities enhance child-caregiver relationships and can influence school readiness, a skillset that enables children to be successful in school and beyond.

On the other hand, certain factors in a child’s life can hinder school readiness, such as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines ACEs as “potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood; for example: Experiencing or witnessing violence, abuse, neglect or certain environmental aspects that can undermine sense of safety, stability and bonding, such as growing up in a household with substance use problems, mental health problems or instability due to parental separation or household members being in jail or prison.”

Unfortunately, experiencing one or more ACEs at some point in childhood is a reality for many youths across the country. ACEs can have a significant impact on a child’s future, affecting mental health, education and much more.

Improve literacy

I recently served on a team that conducted research to determine how early literacy developmental activities could improve school readiness among both children who have experienced ACEs and those who haven’t. Using the 2020-21 National Survey of Children’s Health data, we analyzed 17,545 children between 3-5 years old. Nearly 30 percent of those children had been exposed to at least one ACE.

We found that shared reading, storytelling and singing improved school readiness among children who had been exposed to ACEs as well as those who had not. Although, children who had been exposed to ACEs had fewer experiences with early literacy developmental activities; 77 percent of children with no ACEs received daily early literacy developmental activities, while only 23 percent of those who had experienced any ACE did.

How to take action

Although there is no way we can guarantee a child won’t be exposed to ACEs, we can now confidently say that shared reading, storytelling and singing can make a positive impact on their future despite those negative experiences. As a society, we need to continue our efforts to address barriers that limit a child’s access to early literacy developmental activities. As health care providers, we should take steps to assess that caregivers’ basic needs are being met to ensure they have the time and ability to make these early developmental activities a regular part of their routine.

If you are a parent or caregiver, the key takeaway from these findings is that regardless of the things your child has been exposed to, making a point to read, sing and/or tell stories with them every day has the potential to make a profound impact on their future. You are not only benefiting their early relational health but also working to develop safe, stable, nurturing relationships.

Dr. Clare Crosh is a pediatrician at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

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About the Author

Dr. Clare Crosh
Dr. Clare Crosh

Dr. Clare Crosh is a pediatrician at Advocate Children's Hospital.