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A supportive adult can make all the difference for childhood trauma ED 139
November 19, 2019

A Supportive Adult can Make all the Difference for Childhood Trauma

Read these articles for the stories in them, first. All three discuss scientific research linking childhood experiences to adult health. The older, well-established research found that too much childhood trauma can cause major health and emotional issues in later life. Very recent studies suggest that the presence of caring adults can prevent some of those outcomes. But the drama of these conclusions is in the stories.

Their examples highlight how showing children simple kindness and interest can make all the difference in their lives. Children who had adult support often became healthy, resilient adults in spite of childhood adversities. Without those caring adults, many other traumatized children suffered a lifetime of poor health, depression, and/or addiction.

NPR reports a new study by a researcher who experienced as a child the positive experiences she later studied. (A neighbor had birthday parties for each child in the neighborhood, and made the children welcome whenever they needed a little sympathy or care.)

Her study found that positive childhood experiences did add up. They could reduce the impact of a traumatic childhood on later health problems.

If you're interested, there’s also a 3-minute audio summary of one of the new research studies.

Science Daily has a brief report on a study that reaches very similar conclusions: "focus on increasing the positive" experiences children have.

How Childhood Interventions Can Improve Health Outcomes

The Guardian describes several programs that help children or their caregivers deal with trauma. Most work through helping parents-- who may have faced abuse themselves-- learn how to better support their children.

Some programs also involve cooperation between various agencies that deal with abuse or trauma: hospitals, the police, courts, and schools. This "cross-sector approach" can be complicated. The hope is to provide help to children early enough to reduce the long-term effects of their bad experiences.

Trauma Vocabulary

To abuse someone is to treat them badly. Abuse (it's also a noun) can be physical (beatings, etc.), emotional (constantly telling someone they are worthless, for example) or sexual. Abused children are often neglected-- not given enough to eat or wear or kept in dirty or dangerous situations. "Substance abuse" refers to the misuse of drugs or alcohol.

Adversity is going through hardships like serious illness, war, or severe poverty. We also talk about adverse experiences or adverse circumstances-- very difficult situations.

Interventions are actions to correct a problem. Often government or non-profit organizations try to intervene to rescue children from abuse or bad situations.

Trauma is a major injury or emotionally distressing situation. Traumatic experiences can have serious health consequences immediately or years later.

Coming in the next issue: The Many Ways Libraries Serve Us.

Warmly, Catherine Simonton,

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