By Jennie Liang, CEI Intern
In the field of child development, there is growing attention on positive childhood experiences (PCEs) and understanding how they enable youth to build resilience and help overcome adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) vs. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
ACEs have been extensively studied and are known to have a lasting negative effect on a child’s mental, emotional, and physical health. As a result, there has been a lot of emphasis on reducing the number of ACEs a child faces. But focusing only on ACEs tells an incomplete story of child development as there are people with a high number of ACEs who have fared well in adulthood as well as people with no ACEs who experience mental and emotional difficulties as adults.
Emerging research shows that PCEs may contribute to improved mental health and socio-emotional outcomes in adults. Bethell et al. (2019) surveyed 6,000+ adults and found that those with greater numbers of PCEs were more likely to seek out social and emotional support when they need it than adults with fewer PCEs. Similarly, adults with greater PCEs also report having better mental health than adults with fewer PCEs. The association between PCEs and improved outcomes was true even among those respondents who had a history of ACEs.
These findings suggest that in addition to reducing ACEs, increasing PCEs is equally—if not more—important to healthy child development. This approach is aligned with the strengths-based model that we recommend for educators to emphasize the positive aspects of a child, rather than dwelling on what’s wrong.
The 7 PCEs
PCEs emphasize feelings of connectedness and safety, as well as having social supports. Schools play a crucial role in providing youth with positive childhood experiences, which is especially important for students who experience ACEs at home.
The 7 PCEs are listed below, along with recommendations for how schools can contribute to their students’ positive experiences.
Ability to talk with family about feelings: The child is comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings with their family members. Schools can encourage students to open up dialogue at home and help them practice expressing their feelings so they are more comfortable sharing with their parent(s).
Felt experience that family is supportive in difficult times: The child feels like their family members can offer support when they face challenges. Schools can help facilitate communication between students and their families to ensure family members are aware of potential difficulties the child might be facing.
Enjoyment and participation in community traditions: The child celebrates meaningful moments with their family and community. Schools can create traditions for all students to participate in and encourage them to share the traditions with their family at home.
Feeling of belonging in high school: The child has positive relationships and feels connected to others during a crucial time in adolescence. Schools can ensure ways for all students to feel like they belong through extracurricular activities or social groups.
Feeling of being supported by friends: The child feels like their friends are supportive during difficult times. Schools can incorporate social emotional learning (SEL) into the curriculum to help students improve their communication and connection with one another.
Having at least two non-parent adults who genuinely care: The child has supportive adults outside of the home who are positive influences. Schools can encourage adults in the building (e.g., teachers, counselors, coaches) to develop healthy relationships with students.
Feeling safe and protected by an adult at home: The child feels like their family members are doing what they can to care for them. Schools can help family members understand the importance of being present and available for the child when they can, even if it is just a small gesture.
PCEs help children build trust in others and empower them to become adults who have a strong support system and feel comfortable seeking out help when they need it. It is important that educators are aware of the strengths-based role they can play in supporting students and providing them with positive relationships to ensure healthy development into adulthood.
Bethell, C., Jones, J., Gombojav, N., Linkenbach, J., & Sege, R. (2019). Positive childhood experiences and adult mental and relational health in a statewide sample: Associations across adverse childhood experiences levels. JAMA Pediatrics, 173(11), e193007.