Disclosure: This post is made possible with support from the American Academy of Pediatrics through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All opinions are my own.
I will call him Bear to protect his privacy.
When I saw Bear for the first time, I was in love. He was just so cute. It was a temporary arrangement through the foster care system where one of my friends provides emergency care services. In these instances, the local government removes children from dangerous environments and places them temporarily in safe homes.
Bear’s story was horrifying. He needed to escape a drug addicted mother. She would leave him for hours to support her habit. He was a newly-crawling infant. Alone. He found pills on the floor to ingest.
Bear could not return to his mother after the hospital pumped his stomach and made certain that there were no lasting effects for what just happened. With nothing more than a hospital gown and some socks, we took him home from the hospital in the dead of winter wrapped in blankets. Loving Bear was easy, but dealing with the required family visits was not. Each week, you could see the confusion that the situation was creating for him. His mother always had wonderful stories but no follow through, and the damaging effects were visible. Children need safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments.
Bear was experiencing an adverse childhood experience, or ACE, as they’re known. But those negative experiences from childhood didn’t have to follow him into adulthood.
ACEs impact everyone differently. Common ACEs include abuse, neglect, and household challenges. We can prevent or mitigate their effects by providing safe, stable, nurturing relationships.
We needed to flood his life with love. Uncertain about his actual birth date, we created a first birthday for him and celebrated him. We helped provide stability.
The biological implications of ACEs are often seen when stressful situations arise. Childhood experiences have a big effect of how our brain processes things. Developing coping skills and how to respond to anger and stress is important. Bear often cried out when he thought there was no food left and scrambled on the floor. Realizing that this was his response to what happened previously, we taught him how to ask for more and created as area that he could easily get to that offered healthy snacks.
Be the Voice. The Power of Three
Bear truly changed my life and caused me to seek ways to make certain that I contributed to helping him have a positive outcome. Love, exposure, and support. Critical areas that children need to be successful. Bear taught us this. While my own children know nothing about what he experienced, they did recognize that he needed to be hugged more, spoken to gently, and encouraged. It is important to recognize that children with adverse backgrounds often don’t respond the way we expect.
Love: constant belief that the child will live their best life.
Exposure: ensuring the child understands that although something awful happened, that is not the way life will be from that moment on.
Support: through victory and failure, ensure that they know they have our support.
Resilience lives in all of us, and it wants us to be strong and heal. Healing happens from the inside, but outside resources play a huge role in starting the journey. These resources change the narrative by creating safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children. Everyone––not just kids like Bear––needs at least three individuals or organizations they can count on to help them through difficult times.
Who are those people that you can count on when you need help? Those people who will take action?
My three includes:
A trusted teacher that removes obstacles for our family.
My pastor, Bishop Michael Tyson, who constantly lifts up the entire family.
Our neighbor who is there in emergencies and makes “our village” whole.
I challenge you to find your “three.” Name them if you have them, or find them if you don’t. You can leave them in the comments OR you can share them on social using the hashtag #FindYour3.