Why is becoming ACE-aware important in a classroom?
“The science is clear, early adversity dramatically affects health across a lifetime…The single most important thing we need today is the courage to look this problem in the face and say this is real and this is all of us” – Dr Nadine Burke Harris
This is vital information for every leader and every school in terms of applying the knowledge to support, inform practice and understanding of attachment, trauma and stress and how adverse experiences in childhood can affect behaviour, brain development, stress, mental health and physical health.
How can this be important to wellbeing and healthy functioning?
The 10 most commonly measured adverse childhood experiences were:
exposure to domestic violence
household mental illness (adult)
household substance use (adult)
parental separation or divorce
incarcerated household member
The impact of trauma often depends on the severity and timing of the trauma. The impact of trauma can result in impaired social, emotional and cognitive functioning.
There are actions that can buffer a child against the impact of ACEs and build resilience within them. Children with interests outside of the home (if it is the home that is affecting them) may be able to lessen the impact of their ACEs. By allowing the mind to be occupied with pleasurable things, can allow the brain respite from the adrenaline and cortisol, and so lessen the cellular changes.
If a child can have at least one available adult who is ‘on their side’, then they can weather the storm much better. Therefore, even if there are problems within the home, if at least one parent is maintaining structures, continuity and support, then the impact of ACEs can be reduced. Some children, sadly, won’t have this and their home is a place of fear or chaos. That means that their supportive adults in, for example, their nursery or school, become even more crucial.
Developing positive relationships where teachers may help to normalise a child’s dysregulated stress response systems and develop self-regulation (see below).
Self-regulation/co-regulation having different approaches to behavioural management (not just reacting to the behaviour) can help children with ACEs learn to regulate their emotions and behaviour. Breathing exercises or distraction techniques can help a child keep calm when they’re experiencing frustration, fear or anger. Using strategies that consider the pupil’s emotions and need for space while helping them to calm down can be effective in improving their ability to regulate their emotions. It may also help to validate the emotion they are experiencing and to understand the root of the emotion. For more information, it may help to explore our sections on emotion regulation and emotional intelligence
Competencies where a child may have not had the opportunity develop emotionally in safe environments you cangive children to opportunity to improve competencies such as self-concept and self-efficacy and ultimately build resilience. Please refer to our resources section to learn more about ‘self-concept’.
Acknowledging the difference between pupil consequences for inappropriate behaviour and punishments Consequences are designed to teach, but punishments chastise. It is important to set clear boundaries and expectations for pupils. When children do not meet these expectations or disregard boundaries, they need to be taught the expectations through consistent reasonable consequences.