The Long Reach of Childhood Trauma

A study recently published in the journal Pediatrics, concludes that parents who experienced severe trauma and stress during their own childhood are more likely to see behavioral health problems in their children. Previous studies have shown that childhood trauma can affect mental health later in life. This research is significant in that it goes further and shows a generational link between behavioral health issues of parents and their children.

The types of childhood trauma taken into account mirror those used in calculating ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) scores. They include:

  • Divorce or separation of parents
  • Death of or estrangement from a parent
  • Emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • Witnessing violence in the home
  • Exposure to substance abuse in the household
  • Parental mental illness

The study concluded that the children of parents who had four or more adverse childhood experiences were at double the risk of having ADHD and were four times more likely to have mental health problems. The findings also indicated that a mother’s adverse childhood experiences had a stronger adverse effect on a child’s behavioral health than the father’s experiences. Finally, the researchers showed that parents who lived through adverse childhood experiences were more likely to report higher levels of aggravation as parents and to experience mental health problems.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Adam Schickedanz, is a pediatrician and health services researcher and assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He said that the study results supported the idea of using standardized assessments of parents for adverse childhood experiences during their child’s pediatric health visits.He also hopes to investigate the role that support of teachers, coaches or mentors may have in building a child’s resilience and mitigating the negative effects of childhood trauma.

InBrief: How Resilience is Built

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