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. Childhood Emotional Neglect Can Be Overcome.
The struggles from my early years can’t be erased from my memories. However, I’m glad that I found adult heroes during my childhood who now serve as the stars of some of my fondest memories. I suffered from emotional neglect among other Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
This post is dedicated to three of the many trusted adults who helped me have positive childhood experiences. They paved a road of healing and prevention. When children and families have access to support through individuals, systems, and programs, ACEs can be prevented, which breaks cycles of trauma and can prevent negative physical, mental, and behavioral consequences.
Mr. & Mrs. Kind
He looked depleted and nervous as the sweat dripped from his forehead while he clasped his shaking hands together. His chair made a squeaky noise with every movement that was deafening during the awkward silence. He was thinking about how he could help. He wasn’t sure what to do, but he knew that nothing was not an option for him. Mr. Kind recognized that I was suffering, and he put his job on the line to help me. His name was Mr. Kind, a school counselor.
Mr. Kind and his wife took me into their home during a time I was under great stress and emotionally and physically neglected by a parental figure. They temporarily became fierce advocates for me while they tried to figure out a long-term plan. Out of respect for the privacy of the childhood heroes I’m going to share with you, I’ve changed their names.
I wish there were more programs available to children to help prevent so many cases of childhood neglect and toxic stress based on frequent and prolonged exposure to severe types of stress-related to ACEs.
Thank you, Mr. Kind and family. I’ve become an advocate for other children and my community. In your honor, I try to treat others with the same kindness you showed me.
My experience with the Kind family gave me a newfound belief that people are generally good and want to help. So, I trusted a few more adults with my truths. After a while, I ended up in a foster home. At first, it was uncomfortable but tolerable. Within a few weeks, I began to feel trapped and scared. One day after school, I was sitting on a chair reading in the family room of my foster parents’ home. When the woman of the house saw me, she started screaming that I was not family and should not be in the family room unless I was dusting or cleaning. She got so verbally aggressive that I thought she was going to physically attack me. She made some comments about how my mother didn’t want me, and neither did she.
While the social workers refused to believe my description of the event, the man of the house eventually told the truth about what his wife had done, and I was moved to another foster home. I was afraid of being put into a group home for juveniles, so I tried to stay quiet and distant in the new foster home.
The foster parents were a young couple with their first child. I assumed the New Mom would want me to keep my distance from her child, but she kept inviting me to join them on walks and trips to the park. She let me hold her child, invited me to be in their pictures, and constantly told me I was special. This eased the weight of some of the childhood emotional neglect I had experienced.
Social services required temporary foster parents to do evening room checks to make sure that foster children did not have stolen property, weapons, drugs, or any other forbidden possession. I could tell that the New Mom hated doing that. She always told me before a check that she trusted me and didn’t want to do it, but it was required and a small price to pay to have the honor of me being her guest. New Mom even predicted that I would be an amazing mother myself, one day. She was right.
Soon, I began to trust New Mom. I’ll always remember how she made me feel and the example she set. I was most impressed with how she handled new opportunities and challenges. She was so positive.
Thank you, New Mom, for teaching me to embrace change, look forward to new adventures, and always find the positives, even on the most difficult days.
One of the biggest honors in my own life has been creating safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments with my own children’s friends, and being an adult they can trust. These relationships and environments during childhood are essential to lifelong health, success, and prevention of ACEs.
It’s been ten years since the world lost Orange Juice, my best friend’s mom. I had known her since I was two years old. She thought I was smart and had high expectations of me. Consequently, I came to think highly of myself and my worth despite having many childhood ACEs.
Orange Juice was even my third-grade teacher. She read to my class daily. Ramona the Pest was one of my favorite books that Orange Juice read. She always got so into character. It made me excited about books and reading.
In addition to being a teacher, she also delivered pizza. I never really thought about why she worked that extra job. Years later, I realized it wasn’t just to make ends meet as a single mother.
She also paid for me to attend the private elementary school where she taught. My gymnastics lessons were paid for by her. The encyclopedias I cherished were a gift from her. While my best friend took private piano lessons, I was treated to weekly ice cream floats.
Orange Juice never had expensive vehicles or things, and she rarely gifted something with high monetary value. Instead, she gave priceless experiences and exposure to things and places I otherwise wouldn’t have known.
Thank you, Orange Juice, for always believing in me, giving me a lifelong love-of-learning, and inspiring me to value people and experiences over things and possessions, and to overcome childhood emotional neglect. Of course, thank you for the juicy oranges you brought just for me every time you came to visit my mom.
Start With Three to Overcome Childhood Emotional Neglect
Practice positive parenting and praise your children’s efforts. Children rely on their parents for safety, both physical and emotional, but parents don’t have to do it all alone. Dads and moms should also take care of themselves.
By giving children access to support through individuals, systems, and programs, we can avoid childhood emotional neglect and other ACEs that can be prevented. Let’s break cycles of trauma and prevent negative physical, mental, and behavioral consequences.
Start by identifying three support sources for everyone in your family. You don’t all need to have the same three sources. Remind your children that their supports are available to them and encourage them to use their support without any parental judgment.
Be a voice in your local community to create and support programs that aim at preventing ACEs, such as free and affordable mental health services and help for victims of domestic violence.
Making A Difference
We can all do something to help prevent ACEs, starting with creating awareness. Also, in addition to identifying support sources, we can be a source of support for other children and families. Through this, children build resilience.
“Resilience is the ability to thrive, adapt, and cope despite tough and stressful times, and is an ideal counterbalance to ACEs.” (Prevent Child Abuse America, KPJR Films. “The Facilitator’s Guide to Resilience.”)
Remember that not all stress is bad stress. Some of it just helps prepare us to face something challenging. Thanks to the Kind family, New Mom, Orange Juice, and many more, not only was I able to overcome childhood emotional neglect, but I was also able to actively prevent ACEs.
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