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.
2020 has been a crazy year. Things have happened to all of us that we never could have imagined. As an adult, it’s been trying. It’s hard to get your bearings when the world feels like it’s on fire. I can only imagine how hard this must be on our children; struggling to make sense of everything and trying to function in this new normal. It’s not normal for any of us.
I’ve stayed vigilant these past 9 months since the pandemic began, trying to keep our lives right side up. It takes effort, work, ingenuity, and creativity. I’ve spent the past 15 years trying to help my daughters avoid the pitfalls of ACEs because I suffered them myself and know the effect they can have on a child. Hopefully, our vigilance as parents being safe nurturing caregivers will help our girls fair better should the pandemic be traumatic.
ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) are negative childhood experiences that impact children and can have long-lasting effects. There are 10 ACEs, and they fall into 3 categories: 1) Abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual); 2) Neglect (physical or emotional); and 3) Household dysfunction (mental illness, domestic violence, divorce, incarcerated relative, substance abuse). Thankfully, ACEs can be prevented or mitigated when adults and children have strong support systems through individuals or organizations.
There are a lot of traumatic things that can happen in a child’s life—including death, pandemics, or natural disasters—over which we have no control, but ACEs can be prevented either directly with help from another person, or indirectly through policy, education, or society changes such as paid family leave or prison sentencing laws.
Luckily, I had adults in my life who helped me navigate those ACEs in my life and get through them. Since then, my goal has always been to be an advocate for children and to pay forward the kindness that was given to me by the three people who saved my life without ever knowing it, even more so this holiday season.
This is not something difficult. I’m not special. But being there for a kid when they need it most can make a huge difference in their life as it did for me. We all have the capability to be kind to others, to help others in need, especially children. Experiencing an adverse childhood experience can be traumatic and can set the tone for the quality of life going forward. Having a support system in place can mean the difference between moving through and past hard things in life or getting stuck or even regressing.
This year, coronavirus has taught me a lot of invaluable life lessons. The most important is how important it is to be able to ask for and give help when needed. But kids can’t always do that. Just the way toddlers can’t always verbalize what they feel because of their lack of vocabulary, bigger kids and teens still have difficulty expressing their emotions, especially during a pandemic. It’s hard to turn to the adults in your life for help when they are crumbling under the enormous weight of an international health crisis. We’re all trying our best but sometimes, as parents, just like our kids, we have to be willing to ask for and accept help.
The most important thing is to create safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments for our own children and the children around us. This is the foundation upon which their entire lives will be built. This foundation is not only essential to lifelong health and happiness but could even prevent ACEs from happening in the first place.
For my own children, I check in daily; sometimes hourly. A big part of being there for them is being present in a time when, honestly, a lot of us just want to check out. Another thing I did was put both of my girls into virtual therapy. I am diabetic (underlying condition) so we have only left the house a handful of times in the past 9 months. The girls are doing school virtually. I’m doing grad school virtually. I’m working virtually. We’ve been wearing masks and quarantining for a long time. There have been no family visits. No friends to talk to in-person or at birthday parties. There was no family Thanksgiving celebration. Our world is pretty much the 4 of us who live in this house and as much as we love one another, it is a lot. I didn’t spend all these years doing everything so my girls didn’t experience ACEs just for the aftermath of a global pandemic to mess everything up so I’ve learned to pivot. I know my limits, and I’m not too proud to ask for help.
Therapy helps my daughters talk to someone other than me and express any anxieties or fears they might have and don’t want or can’t talk to me about. It’s a pressure release. I’ve also encouraged the girls to video chat with friends and family and encouraged my husband to initiate his own conversations with them. I want them to feel connected even when we’re physically not and feel heard when the world is so noisy.
I’ve noticed my daughters’ friends also experiencing these same issues as my girls. I’ve always been the mom who the kids know they can talk to about anything. I’m the mom who isn’t afraid to go to school and speak up for the kid getting bullied. I’m the mom who if I see your child struggling or reaching out for attention, I will tell you. I know it might not be popular with my daughters, but if I see a child talking about depression or suicide (needing help), I will and have reached out to their parents or school officials. I can’t ignore it when it can mean the difference between life and death. The thing is you never know what kind of desperation is behind a social media post (especially during coronavirus), and I just don’t feel comfortable taking that chance. I know it’s not a lot, but it’s a small way that I can provide kindness and advocate on behalf of the children in my life.
READ ALSO: Surviving Child Abuse
Being there for children is free. It only takes a willingness to help, time, and genuine concern. This pandemic holiday season, I am going to make sure to send personalized cards to the kids in our lives to let them know they are not alone and we are here to support them. I am also going to take some time to personally call and check in on some of them. I’ll also be checking their social media accounts including the fake accounts their parents know nothing about. The holidays are always a hard time of year for some, but I think this year is hard probably for most.
My gift to the children in my life this year is to be one of their three if they need me, like the three people who were there for me when I needed them most. If I can help a child get through these uncertain times by being part of an unconditional support system and providing some stability, that would be a gift to me.
We’ve all had our three (or more) people in our lives who’ve been there to help us when we needed them most. This holiday season, let’s all pay it forward. Who were the three people who helped create a safe, stable, and nurturing relationship or environment when you were growing up? What will you do to be one of a child’s three this holiday season?