As a parent, you may have heard the term “adverse childhood experiences” or ACEs. These are experiences that can have such a significant negative effect on kids that they cause emotional, physical and social issues in their adulthood.
The term “toxic stress” is often used when ACEs are discussed. Chronic stress can damage people’s health, causing serious medical diseases. It can also lead to risky behaviors like smoking, drug and alcohol abuse and thoughts of suicide.
What are the identified ACEs?
Mental health professionals have identified at least ten ACEs. They fall into three categories: abuse, neglect and household dysfunction.
- Abuse includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse (of the child or a parent)
- Neglect includes physical and emotional neglect of the child
- Household dysfunction typically involves something happening to one or both parents, like substance abuse, mental illness, incarceration and divorce
So why is divorce there along with all of these other arguably much more serious problems a child could experience?
Multiple ACEs can be particularly damaging
First, it’s important to understand that the more ACEs a child experiences, the more likely they are to have problems that need intervention later in life. Divorce is often accompanied by other ACEs. For example, divorce often occurs because one spouse is physically or emotionally abusive or has a substance abuse problem.
If the only ACE a child experiences is their parents’ divorce, and none of the other ACEs led to it or accompany it, it may not be something that follows them into adulthood. However, it’s still important that parents not dismiss the role it can play in how their child sees themselves and others. If there are (or have been) other ACEs, it’s important to understand their effect on your child.
Certainly, parents shouldn’t stay together because they’re afraid of the effect of divorce on their children. Living in a home with parents who are constantly fighting, not speaking to each other or simply miserable is by no means healthy.
If you and your spouse will be co-parenting your child, you have the power to minimize the stress and anxiety of your divorce by committing to keeping their best interests ahead of your differences as you work out how you’ll share custody and co-parent. By getting experienced legal guidance, you can work out a parenting plan that will provide security and consistency for your child.