Lack of positive childhood experiences impacts more than presence of negative ones
Researchers have found that the absence of positive childhood experiences – such as having a supportive caregiver – can be far more detrimental than the presence of negative experiences.
The world of pediatric research has largely focused on how adverse experiences, (such as child abuse, neglect, having a parent with a mental illness or who is incarcerated) can negatively affect health outcomes and lead to poor health and wellness as an adult. However, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) Pediatrics Associate Professor Dr Binny Chokshi is working to develop a strategy for educating parents and clinicians about how positive childhood experiences can help to mitigate the impact of stressful life events for children.
“My focus has always been in training healthcare professionals to recognise how life experiences affect health outcomes,” Dr Chokshi said.
“There’s lots of research in early childhood interventions that focus on identifying and preventing adversity – but many of us in the field felt like this was a deficit-based approach, that missed recognising the tremendous strengths that can define our patients and their families,” she added.
According to Dr Chokshi, the Positive Childhood Experiences (PCE) movement is a newer idea she subscribes to showing adults who had exposure as kids to positive childhood experiences – such as a sense of belonging in their community or family support – better navigated difficult experiences put in their path.
In 2019, a Johns Hopkins study of 6,188 adults was undertaken to assess the role of seven specific PCEs in impacting adult mental and relational health. These included being able to talk about feelings with family, having support during tough times, having fun with traditions, fitting in at school, having supportive friends, having care from non-parent adults, and feeling safe at home.
“What the research shows is that experiences of these [positive] events in childhood were protective for adult mental and relational health and also helped to mitigate the impact of adversity,” Dr Chokshi said.
“[This] demonstrated that the health impact of adverse events is not destiny. So the pediatric world really took hold of this [idea] because if we can mitigate the stress associated with these life experiences, then maybe we can foster good health and wellness in childhood, adolescence and into adulthood.”
These findings are something Dr Chokshi said she has really taken to heart and applied to military pediatrics.
“There are unique stressors that military kids face and are inherent to military life, they are not preventable” she explained. “If you’re going to be a military child in a military family, you will likely have a parent who is deployed or you will likely need to move around a lot.”
While studies have shown that these stressors can impact the health and wellness of military connected children, the PCE research highlights that these effects can be counteracted by the promotion of positive experiences. Positive experiences allow for children to build strong coping skills, through the cultivation of strong support systems, confidence, and a sense of belonging.
Dr Chokshi’s current goal is to help educate people in both military and civilian spaces about the importance of positive support and experiences for children going through stressful periods. She recommends educating parents and providers and to work at decreasing stressors such as food insecurities, and work with schools and community organisations to make sure military kids are being supported in the right ways.
“The reason I like this PCE framework is because it helps us to view our patient and helps us to give treatment plans and guidance from a strength-based approach rather than a deficit-based approach,” she added.
In the future, she is also interested in exploring PCEs specific to military connected children and adolescents.
To learn more about Dr Chokshi’s work, please see here.
Excellent: why do we need that rating for early childhood care?
by Freya Lucas
Parents can play a role in preventing the development of ADHD symptoms, study finds
by Freya Lucas
Outdated leadership perceptions can cause workplace harm, UQ study finds
by Freya Lucas