Nurturing Resilience: The Power Of Positive Childhood Experiences

When you think of positive childhood experiences, what do you think of? Running barefoot through a field of wildflowers feeling the soft blades of grass tickling your feet? The joyous laughter echoing through the air as you swing high on a rusty playground swing, hoping to loop over the top pole? The mouth-watering scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies wafting from the kitchen? The captivating sight of fireflies lighting up the night like tiny, enchanting fairies, illuminating the world with their twinkling glow? The invigorating rush of the wind against your face as you pedal your bike downhill, the sense of freedom and adventure like never before? Or the delightful taste of ripe, juicy watermelon on a scorching summer day, its sweetness exploding with each refreshing bite?

Unfortunately for many children, their childhoods are not filled with light, love, laughter and hope. More and more research has been coming out the past few years regarding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their long-term impact on the emotional, physical, social, and educational development of children. 

ACEs are traumatic events that occur before a child reaches the age of 18. A landmark study in the 1990s found a significant relationship between the number of ACEs a person experienced and a variety of negative outcomes in adulthood, including poor physical and mental health, substance use, and risky behaviours. The more ACEs experienced, the greater the risk for these outcomes. (Child Welfare Information Gateway, Adverse Childhood Experiences) 

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study looked at over 17,000 individuals and the impact childhood dysfunction and trauma had on their current physical, mental and behaviour health. The study discovered that toxic stress and exposure to stress hormones impacted the development of childhood brains and bodies. The long-term exposure to trauma was linked to heart disease, diabetes, alcoholism, depression and suicide. (

Adverse childhood experiences include exposure to domestic violence, parental abandonment through separation or divorce, a parent with a mental health condition, being the victim of abuse (physical, sexual and/or emotional), being a victim of neglect, a member of the household being in prison, and growing up in a household in which there are adults experiencing alcohol and drug use problems. 

A child’s brain is like a sponge. They learn from their experiences and absorb knowledge from the world around them…If a negative experience happens, like falling off a bicycle, a child will learn from those experiences. They may go slower or take safety precautions. Sometimes, negative experiences are out of a child’s control and they’re unable to slow down or protect themselves from mental or physical harm. Cleveland Clinic, Adverse Childhood Experiences, 2023). 

The challenge we often face when we work in an organization which supports young people is that we don’t always have the ability to impact what ACEs that child may experience outside of our care. Remember that ACE scores don’t tally the positive experiences in early life that can help build resilience and protect a child from the effects of trauma. (, Take the ACE Quiz – And Learn What it Does and Doesn’t Mean, Laura Starcheski, 2015)

The encouragement we can find in the midst of all of this is that while there are adverse childhood experiences there are also positive childhood experiences, which have a similar correlation with long-term health outcomes. A JAMA Pediatrics study, published in 2019, found that there are seven experiences which improve resilience and reduce the likelihood of the negative impacts of ACEs. 

These seven Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) include: 

Being able to share their feelings with family. 

Feeling supported by family during difficult times. 

Enjoying participation in community traditions. 

Feeling a sense of belonging in high school. 

Feeling supported by friends. 

Having at least two non-parent adults who genuinely care. 

Feeling safe and protected by an adult at home. 

By intentionally introducing each PCE to your child’s life, you give them the necessary tools they will need for long-term success, happiness, and resilience. (Idaho Youth Ranch, 7 Positive Childhood Experiences, 2020)

Children and families thrive when they have access to safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. These relationships and environments are essential to creating positive childhood experiences and preventing adverse childhood experiences. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Creating Positive Childhood Experiences, 2022)

Imagine the impact we could make in the lives of the children and youth we work with if we work towards helping instill these positive childhood experiences into their lives. Let’s explore each of those seven and consider how we might incorporate them into our ministries, schools, programs and services.  

Being able to share their feelings: Consider how you can help kids learn that it’s okay to express their feelings and that you’re there for them when they have something emotional going on. We can teach kids about emotions using feeling wheels, emotions apps, and having deep conversations. Programs that offer mentoring can get to the heart of emotions and feelings by creating safe places for young people to open up. Provide opportunities for them to express their feelings openly and without judgement. This can be done through art, storytelling, or group discussions. 

Feeling supported during difficult times: When life becomes difficult, it’s important for them to know that you’re there for them. It could be as simple as checking in with kids going through difficult times or who haven’t been around, providing extra support when needed, and reaching out when families are struggling. 

Enjoying participation in community traditions: What are some of the fun community traditions your organization does or can do? How can you invite families and create space for exciting things to look forward to and create memories? As much as possible, keep the traditions and rituals going. This can be elaborate and formal, like a holiday or traditional food, or simple and informal like greeting with a certain phrase or secret handshake. Children feel secure and thrive when they know what to expect and they have things to look forward to. 

Feeling a sense of belonging in high school: Does your organization work with high schoolers? Encouraging young people to become involved in a variety of clubs, teams, committees and groups associated with specific hobbies and interests can provide opportunities for teens to connect and find belonging. This can be a sense of belonging and connection with a larger group who has got your back and cares about you. Encourage teamwork, group activities, and collaboration, allowing children to form positive relationships with their peers. 

Feeling supported by friends: Being supported by your family is important but so are friendships. We can help kids by encouraging them to make good decisions when it comes to choosing friends and set positive examples of healthy, supportive friendships. 

Having at least two non-parent adults who genuinely care: This PCE is probably one of the most powerful ways that our organizations, ministries and schools can come alongside families to provide support and care. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to an adult that’s not your parent, or sometimes parents are not always  available. Having at least two non-parent adults who care and are positive influences can make a huge difference. This can be teachers, mentors, coaches, counselors,other kids’ parents, youth leaders, pastors, tutors etc. Remember to say the words – don’t assume they know you care. Tell them how much you love them, that you’re proud of them and you care.  Encourage staff and volunteers to be positive role models who demonstrate kindness, empathy and respect. 

Feeling safe and protected: Feeling safe and protected at home goes a long way – but so does feeling safe and protected in the programs and places you go. Having a comprehensive child safety policy, training and screening your workers and providing appropriate supervision are just a few of the ways your organization can create a safe and protected place. Ensure that physical spaces are safe, well-maintained, and conducive to learning and play. Implementing clear rules and guidelines can create a sense of security for children. 

We all have a role to play in nurturing PCEs with the children and young people we interact with. The key is not assuming that they are doing fine just because they’re not showing obvious signs of distress. As we check in, ask them to share their feelings, listen and provide space for hard kids to know that you genuinely care and are a safe person. 

We all benefit when children have safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. Everyone can help prevent ACEs and promote positive childhood experiences by supporting children and families where you live and work. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Creating Positive Childhood Experiences, 2022)

*Previously published in PROTECT publication issue 11.

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