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Helping children overcome Adverse Childhood Experiences and build emotional resilience.

Hopefully the current focus on the impact on children of specific adversities will lead to more effective early preventive interventions and improved case management when parents are for whatever reason unable to meet their children's needs, even with appropriate supports.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) vary in their severity and impact and many children who are experiencing adversity will not be known to social services. All of them will however be in early education settings, schools, GP practices and on health visitor and possibly Allied Health professionals’ caseloads.

There are many simple tools we can use to build resilience in children, some of which we already know but may not understand how significant they are if applied consistently.

Continual appropriate positive reinforcement such as a parent provides to a young baby by smiling and talking directly to a baby and responding to the baby’s cues, anchors in feelings of attachment certainty and love in infants. As the infant grows, celebrating progress and effort, anchors in feelings of self-worth which are key to supporting children's healthy attachment and emotional resilience.

It is particularly important that early educators, childminders, health professionals, foster carers, social workers and sports coaches continually positively reinforce children, especially those who are experiencing adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse or neglect, or those living in homes characterised by domestic violence, substance abuse and/or mental illness. This psychological anchoring is most effective when skilfully applied and the steps are easily taught.

Too often cumulative negative feelings associated with repeated adverse experiences have already been unconsciously anchored in children and young people and because they are stacked, the negative emotions are easily triggered, often into a fight or flight response. Collapsing negative anchors helps to break the pattern, especially when powerful positive anchors are instilled in their place.

Understanding how to reframe unpleasant incidents and events such as broken promises, and episodes of bullying, is another way of helping children to dilute the emotional charges associated with unkind acts and prevent them making it about themselves rather than the immaturity or inappropriate behaviour of the other person.

For children who are taken into foster care because of neglect and abuse it is important that they understand that it's not what happened to them in the past that matters so much as what they do about it now. While our history is a series of facts, it is our interpretation of them that determines the quality of our life and in particular the capacity to let go of any ongoing negative feelings of anger, sadness, fear, hurt or guilt surrounding them.

In an incredibly powerful strategy called ‘changing personal history’ it is possible to anchor powerful emotional states, and walk the young person back into the past to help them reframe it with a more empowered perspective. Our perspective is our reality and by changing how we look at things we can start to let go of some of the emotional charges associated with past events.

Timeline therapy is another great strategy for observing past events from an emotionally detached perspective. You don't have to pretend you had a happy childhood, just acknowledge it for what it is and let it go. This involves acceptance of a parent’s lack of capacity to parent effectively rather than judging them for it.

Oneness university based in Chanai in India teaches that emotional pain is real and it is appropriate to grieve and to be sad and angry in certain situations, but suffering is a choice especially when the event is long past, and we are still caught up in the suffering, or in the story we tell ourselves.

Life events should be interpreted as lessons. What learning do we need to get from them, how can we interpret that learning to serve us in the future and how can we share it with others, so they can learn from our experiences.

That's why it is so effective to have young people in care and care leavers talking with other young people in care about how they developed resilience and moved forward in spite of, and for some, maybe even because of their past.

Understanding how to help children deal emotionally with adverse childhood events both as they occur and with hindsight is the responsibility of all professionals, regardless of their discipline or setting. You never know if you are the most important person for a child on any one day so you have to treat every child as if you are. Commit to mastering the necessary skills of anchoring and reframing to help build resilience in children.

Awareness is the first step in building your own emotional intelligence and resilience and sharing it with others. How resilient are you?

For more information on building resilience in children, visit my website or email me at

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