Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic experiences that occur in childhood (ages 0–17). Examples include experiencing abuse, witnessing violence in the home, and having an incarcerated parent. ACEs have been linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance use problems later in life. In particular, youth who have experienced parental incarceration are distinguished from other children with ACEs by the unique combination of trauma, shame, and stigma. Parental incarceration increases the risk of a child living in poverty or experiencing household instability.

Children can be screened for ACEs by a pediatrician as a preventative measure. Catching and preventing ACEs early on in childhood can increase the quality of life for children. Some preventative measures that states and communities can take are social and economic supports that address financial hardship and other conditions that put families at risk, trauma-informed counseling, and, when appropriate, keeping families together by diverting parents from the criminal legal system.

A worksheet at the bottom of the page provides ideas for youth who are experiencing intense stress due to parental incarceration. Although the worksheet techniques do not eliminate the experience of having an incarcerated parent or replace mental health counseling, they do help children cope with situations such as feeling sad after leaving a parent after visiting them in a facility, feeling frustrated after missing a parent’s phone call, or feeling stigmatized at school.

Here are a few ACEs resources:

Grounding Techniques

Grounding techniques help us create a sense of safety in the present and that being present is doable and safe for us. Trauma often causes us to disconnect from reality because it makes us feel unsafe, which causes us to often not live in the present. Try out a grounding technique when you are calm. That way, when you are not fine, you are already familiar with these techniques.

5-4-3-2-1 method
Playing relaxing sounds
Squeeze or punch a plushie pillow
Hands in cold water
Melt candy or chocolate in your mouth
Spray perfume and focus on the scent
Describe your surrounding in detail
Anchoring phrase
Burrow under a blanket and read a book out loud
Touch and hold objects around you
Stomp your feet, wiggle your toes, clap your hands
Stayed alive
EFT tapping
List things around you that denote safety
Make up a silly story or a poem as you go
Eat a sour candy or chew gum
Positive visualization
List or ready affirming statements
Watch animal videos
Go on a walk
Play tetris, sudoku, word searches, puzzles or color
Count backwards from 300 by 7s or 4s
Brush your hair gently
Hug a tree, hug yourself, hug someone