Child's behavior may be linked to parent's ACEs

Parents who have experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction, are more likely than parents without these experiences to have children with behavioral health problems, according to an analysis of data from several large, nationally representative surveys of US households that addressed ACEs and children’s behavioral problems and diagnoses.

Of the more than 2500 children for whom researchers had data, one-fifth had a parent who reported experiencing 4 or more ACEs during their own childhood. Compared with their peers whose parents reported having no ACEs during their childhood, these children had worse scores on standardized tests of child behavior problems and of positive behaviors (such as self-control, persistence, self-esteem, social competence, and compliance) as well as increased odds of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and emotional disturbance. Mothers’ ACE counts had a far stronger influence on these child behavioral outcomes than did fathers’ (Schickedanz A, et al. Pediatrics. 2018;142[2]:e20180023).

It is concerning, but not surprising, that young people carry childhood trauma into adulthood and transmit that trauma to their children. We have plenty of examples of cycles of poverty and trauma in families and communities. These data support efforts to identify childhood trauma and to intervene early to mitigate downstream effects. 


Authors: Marian Freedman and Michael G. Burke