Understanding Protective Childhood Experiences
By Fabricia Prado
From the World Health Organization positive construct, health is more than the absence of adversity: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” It is only fair and logical to consider that while some factors will impair health and optimal development, others will enhance it. Modern prevention professionals address and monitor the influences on behavior (risk/adverse and protective factors) to prevent unhealthy behavior and nurture development. In other words, we shouldn’t only focus on adverse experiences, but also protective experiences.
Protective childhood experiences (PCEs) are positive experiences and perceived support that may co-occur with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and attenuate its potential for negative health outcomes. The more we understand about which protective factors are the most helpful for different populations and desired health outcomes, the more communities can strategically plan to strengthen and support them to promote resilience and mitigate the toxic effects of ACEs. The ACE study and science offers hope by exposing resilient and self-healing communities. Advancements in neuroscience and positive psychology framework direct research focus to the factors that will contribute to better health.
A joint assessment of ACEs and PCEs may provide better contributions for resilience-based interventions focused on well-being development. According to Bethell et al. (2019) a cross-sectional study, an association of a PCE cumulative score and the frequency in which adults reported receiving social and emotional support were inversely correlated to depression and/or poor mental health. A more recent survey by Morris et al. (2021) collecting data from ethnically diverse families, asked parents to complete a 10-item ACEs questionnaire as well as a 10-item protective and compensatory experiences (PACES) questionnaire assessing relationships and resources. The results indicate that higher PACES are positively associated with parenting attitudes, practices, and behaviors related to nurturing parenting, higher income, and education. In addition, the study suggests that PACEs buffer associations between ACEs and harsh parenting attitudes. The ten protective experiences children need to prevent risk and promote resilience are:
- Caregivers who love them unconditionally,
- At least one best friend,
- Regular opportunities to help others,
- Involvement in organized sport groups,
- Active membership in a civic group or faith-based youth group,
- An engaging hobby,
- An adult other than a parent they can trust,
- A home that is clean and safe with enough food to eat,
- Clear routines and rules,
- And a school that provides sufficient resources and academic experiences to learn.
While ACEs are correlated with negative family social and emotional health processes and resources, PCEs are positively associated with family health domains (Daines, Hansen, Novilla & Crandall, 2021). In addition, the resulting effects of such factors can be more long-term than one’s lifetime because they happen in the context of families’ behavioral patterns which are intergenerational. Therefore, both adverse and protective childhood experiences can have effects on the health of the family in adulthood and across multiple generations.
Preamble to the Constitution of WHO as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19 June - 22 July 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of WHO, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948. The definition has not been amended since 1948.
Bethell C, Jones J, Gombojav N, Linkenbach J, Sege R. Positive Childhood Experiences and Adult Mental and Relational Health in a Statewide Sample: Associations Across Adverse Childhood Experiences Levels. JAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(11):e193007. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.3007
Daines, C.L., Hansen, D., Novilla, M.L.B. et al. Effects of positive and negative childhood experiences on adult family health. BMC Public Health 21, 651 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-10732-w
Morris, A.S., Hays-Grudo, J., Zapata, M.I. et al. Adverse and Protective Childhood Experiences and Parenting Attitudes: the Role of Cumulative Protection in Understanding Resilience. ADV RES SCI (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42844-021-00036-8