Psychosocial Development in Early Childhood

Diana Lang; Nick Cone; Stephanie Loalada; Laura Overstreet; Lumen Learning; Ross Thompson; Joel A Muraco; Wendy Ruiz; Rebecca Laff; and Jamie Skow

The time between a child’s second and sixth birthday is full of new social experiences and development. At the beginning of this stage, a child selfishly engages in the world—the goal is to please the self. As children get older, they realize that relationships are built on give-and-take. They typically start to learn to empathize with others and make friends.

While children are learning about their place in various relationships, they are also developing an understanding of emotion. Two-year-old’s do not have a good grasp on their emotions, but by the time they are six, most understand their emotions better. They also understand how to control and mask their emotions—even to the point that they may put on a different emotion than they are actually feeling. By the time children reach six years old, they tend to understand that other people have emotions. They typically develop an understanding that all emotions involved in a situation (theirs and other people’s) should be taken into consideration. That said, although most six-year-olds understands these things, they are not always good at putting the knowledge into action. We’ll examine some of these issues in this section.


Early childhood is a time of forming an initial sense of self. A self-concept or idea of who we are, what we are capable of doing, and how we think and feel is a social process that involves taking into consideration how others view us. It might be said, then, that in order to develop a sense of self, you must have interaction with others. Interactionist theorists, Cooley and Mead, offer two interesting explanations of how a sense of self develops.

Cooley’s Looking-Glass Self

Image of multiple versions of a person labeled "how my mom and dad see me, how my girlfriend sees me, et cetera."
According to Cooley’s concept of the looking glass self, we view ourselves according to how we think others perceive us. (Image Source: via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0)

Charles Horton Cooley[1] suggested that our self-concept comes from looking at how others respond to us. This process, known as the looking-glass self involves looking at how others seem to view us and interpreting this as we make judgments about whether we are good or bad, strong or weak, beautiful or ugly, and so on. Of course, we do not always interpret their responses accurately so our self-concept is not simply a mirror reflection of the views of others. After forming an initial self-concept, we may use our existing self-concept as a mental filter screening out those responses that do not seem to fit our ideas of who we are. So compliments may be negated, for example.

Think of times in your life when you felt more self-conscious. The process of the looking-glass self is pronounced when we are preschoolers. Later in life, we also experience this process when we are in a new school, new job, or are taking on a new role in our personal lives and are trying to gauge our own performance. When we feel more positive about who we are we focus less on how we appear to others.

In summary, self-concept is our self-description according to various categories, such as our external and internal qualities. In contrast, self-esteem is an evaluative judgment about who we are. The emergence of cognitive skills in this age group typically results in improved perceptions of oneself.

Video Example

Watch this Khan Academy video to learn more about Charles Cooley’s looking-glass self.

You can view the transcript for “Introduction to Sociology: Charles Cooley: Looking glass self” here (opens in new window).

Mead’s I and Me

George Herbert Mead[2] offered an explanation of how we develop a social sense of self by being able to see ourselves through the eyes of others. There are two parts of the self: the “I” which is the part of the self that is spontaneous, creative, innate, and is not concerned with how others view us, and the “me” or the social definition of who we are.

When we are born, we are all “I” and act without concern about how others view us. But the socialized self begins when we are able to consider how one important person views us. This initial stage is called, “taking the role of the significant other.” For example, a child may pull a cat’s tail and be told by his mother, “No! Don’t do that, that’s bad” while receiving a slight slap (spanking or slightly slapping is not a recommended child-rearing practice) on the hand. Later, the child may mimic the same behavior toward the self and say aloud, “No, that’s bad” while patting his own hand. What has happened? The child is able to see himself through the eyes of the mother. As the child grows and is exposed to many situations and rules of culture, he begins to view the self in the eyes of many others through these cultural norms or rules. This is referred to as “taking the role of the generalized other” and results in a sense of self with many dimensions. The child comes to have a sense of self as a student, as a friend, as a son, and so on.

Exaggerated Sense of Self

One of the ways to gain a clearer sense of self is to exaggerate those qualities that are to be incorporated into the self. Preschoolers often like to exaggerate their own qualities and seek validation from adults and/or peers. They seek validation such as if they are the biggest or smartest child or the child who can jump the highest. Much of this may be due to the simple fact that children typically do not understand their own limits. Young children may really believe that they can pick up the refrigerator or win a running race with an Olympic athlete.

This exaggeration tends to be replaced by a more realistic sense of self in middle childhood as children realize that they do have limitations. Part of this process includes having caregivers who allow children to explore their capabilities and give the child authentic feedback. Another important part of this process involves children learning that other people have capabilities, too, and that their own capabilities may differ from those of others.


One important aspect of self-concept is how we understand our ability to exhibit self-control and delay gratification. Self-control involves both response inhibition and delayed gratification. Response inhibition involves the ability to recognize a potential behavior before it occurs and stop the initiation of behaviors that could result in undesired consequences. Delayed gratification refers to the process of forgoing immediate or short-term rewards to achieve more valuable goals in the longer term. The ability to delay gratification was traditionally assessed in young children with the “Marshmallow Test.” During this experiment, participants were presented with a marshmallow (or another small treat) and were given a choice to eat it or wait for a certain period of time without eating it, so that they could have two marshmallows.[3]

While self-control takes many years to develop, we typically see the beginnings of this skill during early childhood. This ability to delay gratification in young children has been shown to predict many positive outcomes. For instance, preschoolers who were able to delay gratification for a longer period of time had higher levels of resilience, better academic and social competence, and greater planning ability in their adolescence.[4] Recent research has linked poor delayed gratification in young children to poor eating self-regulation, specifically regarding eating when not hungry and behavioral problems.[5]

Video Example

This video explains Mead’s understanding of the “I” and the “me,” and compares it to other concepts you’ve already learned about, like egocentrism.

You can view the transcript for “George Herbert Mead- The I and the Me | Individuals and Society | MCAT | Khan Academy” here (opens in new window).

Gender Identity, Gender Constancy, and Gender Roles

Another important dimension of the self is the sense of self as male or female. Preschool aged children become increasingly interested in finding out the differences between boys and girls both physically and in terms of what activities are acceptable for each. While two-year-olds can identify some differences and learn whether they are boys or girls, preschoolers become more interested in what it means to be male or female. This self-identification, or gender identity, is followed sometime later with gender constancy, or the understanding that superficial changes do not mean that gender has actually changed. For example, if you are playing with a two-year-old boy and put barrettes in his hair, he may protest saying that he doesn’t want to be a girl. By the time a child is four-years-old, they have a solid understanding that putting barrettes in their hair does not change their gender.

Children learn at a young age that there are distinct expectations for boys and girls. Cross-cultural studies reveal that children are aware of gender roles by age two or three. At four or five, most children are firmly entrenched in culturally appropriate gender roles (Kane 1996). Children acquire these roles through socialization, a process in which people learn to behave in a particular way as dictated by societal values, beliefs, and attitudes.

Children may also use gender stereotyping readily. Gender stereotyping involves overgeneralizing about the attitudes, traits, or behavior patterns of women or men. A recent research study examined four- and five-year-old children’s predictions concerning the sex of the persons carrying out a variety of common activities and occupations on television. The children’s responses revealed strong gender-stereotyped expectations. They also found that children’s estimates of their own future competence indicated stereotypical beliefs, with the females more likely to reject masculine activities.

Children who are allowed to explore different toys, who are exposed to non-traditional gender roles, and whose parents and caregivers are open to allowing the child to take part in non-traditional play (allowing a boy to nurture a doll, or allowing a girl to play doctor) tend to have broader definitions of what is gender appropriate, and may do less gender stereotyping.

Video Example

This clip from Upworthy shows how some children were surprised to meet women in traditionally male occupations.

You can view the transcript for “A Class That Turned Around Kids’ Assumptions of Gender Roles!” here (opens in new window).

Link to Learning – Dig Deeper: Gender Identity Development

The National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement identified several stages of gender identity development, as outlined below. You can see more of their resources and tips for healthy gender development by reading Healthy Gender Development and Young Children.

  • Infancy. Children observe messages about gender from adults’ appearances, activities, and behaviors. Most parents’ interactions with their infants are shaped by the child’s gender, and this in turn also shapes the child’s understanding of gender.[6][7][8]
  • 18–24 months. Toddlers begin to define gender, using messages from many sources. As they develop a sense of self, toddlers look for patterns in their homes and early care settings. Gender is one way to understand group belonging, which is important for secure development.[9][10][11][12][13][14][15]
  • Ages 3–4. Gender identity takes on more meaning as children begin to focus on all kinds of differences. Children begin to connect the concept “girl” or “boy” to specific attributes. They form stronger rules or expectations for how each gender behaves and looks.[16][17][18]
  • Ages 5–6. At these ages, children’s thinking may be rigid in many ways. For example, 5- and 6-year-olds are very aware of rules and of the pressure to comply with them. They do so rigidly because they are not yet developmentally ready to think more deeply about the beliefs and values that many rules are based on. For example, as early educators and parents know, the use of “white lies” is still hard for them to understand. Researchers call these ages the most “rigid” period of gender identity.[19][20][21] A child who wants to do or wear things that are not typical of his gender is probably aware that other children find it strange. The persistence of these choices, despite the negative reactions of others, show that these are strong feelings. Gender rigidity typically declines as children age.[22][23] With this change, children develop stronger moral impulses about what is “fair” for themselves and other children.[24]

It is important to understand these typical and normal attempts for children to understand the world around them. It is helpful to encourage children and support them as individuals, instead of emphasizing or playing into gender roles and expectations. You can foster self-esteem in children of any gender by giving all children positive feedback about their unique skills and qualities. For example, you might say to a child, “I noticed how kind you were to your friend when she fell down” or “You were very helpful with clean-up today—you are such a great helper” or “You were such a strong runner on the playground today.”

Learning Through Reinforcement and Modeling

Learning theorists suggest that gender role socialization is a result of the ways in which parents, teachers, friends, schools, religious institutions, media, and others send messages about what is acceptable or desirable behavior for males or females. This socialization begins early—in fact, it may even begin the moment a parent learns that a child is on the way. Knowing the sex of the child can conjure up images of the child’s behavior, appearance, and potential on the part of a parent. And this stereotyping continues to guide perception through life. Consider parents of newborns. Shown a 7-pound, 20-inch baby, wrapped in blue (a color designating males) describe the child as tough, strong, and angry when crying. Shown the same infant in pink (a color used in the United States for baby girls), these parents are likely to describe the baby as pretty, delicate, and frustrated when crying.[25] Female infants are held more, talked to more frequently and given direct eye contact, while male infants’ play is often mediated through a toy or activity.

Photo of a small girl playing with a dollhouse.
Little girls are often encouraged to play with toys that support female stereotypes of being nurturing. (Image Source: Nenad Stojkovic on Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

One way children learn gender roles is through play. Parents typically supply boys with trucks, toy guns, and superhero paraphernalia, which are active toys that promote motor skills, aggression, and solitary play. Daughters are often given dolls and dress-up apparel that foster nurturing, social proximity, and role play. Studies have shown that children will most likely choose to play with “gender appropriate” toys (or same-gender toys) even when cross-gender toys are available because parents give children positive feedback (in the form of praise, involvement, and physical closeness) for gender normative behavior.[26]


Sons are given tasks that take them outside the house and that have to be performed only on occasion, while girls are more likely to be given chores inside the home, such as cleaning or cooking, that are performed daily. Sons are encouraged to think for themselves when they encounter problems, and daughters are more likely to be given assistance even when they are working on an answer. This impatience is reflected in teachers waiting less time when asking a female student for an answer than when asking for a reply from a male student.[27] Girls are given the message from teachers that they must try harder and endure in order to succeed while boys successes are attributed to their intelligence. Of course, the stereotypes of advisors can also influence which kinds of courses or vocational choices girls and boys are encouraged to make.

Friends discuss what is acceptable for boys and girls, and popularity may be based on modeling what is considered ideal behavior or appearance for the sexes. Girls tend to tell one another secrets to validate others as best friends, while boys compete for position by emphasizing their knowledge, strength or accomplishments. This focus on accomplishments can even give rise to exaggerating accomplishments in boys, but girls are discouraged from showing off and may learn to minimize their accomplishments as a result.

Gender messages abound in our environment. But does this mean that each of us receives and interprets these messages in the same way? Probably not. In addition to being recipients of these cultural expectations, we are individuals who also modify these roles.[28]

One interesting recent finding is that girls may have an easier time breaking gender norms than boys.[29] Girls who play with masculine toys often do not face the same ridicule from adults or peers that boys face when they want to play with feminine toys. Girls also face less ridicule when playing a masculine role (like doctor) as opposed to a boy who wants to take a feminine role (like caregiver).

Video Example

This video provides an overview of common toy commercials and how they can be analyzed based on recent research on gender stereotypes. What gender roles or gender stereotypes have you noticed in toy commercials? How do you think toy commercials have changed over the past few years?

You can view the transcript for “Toy Commercials: Playing with Gender” here (opens in new window).

The Impact of Gender Discrimination

How much does gender matter? In the United States, gender differences are found in school experiences. Even into college and professional school, girls are less vocal in class and much more at risk for sexual harassment from teachers, coaches, classmates, and professors. These gender differences are also found in social interactions and in media messages. The stereotypes that boys should be strong, forceful, active, dominant, and rational, and that girls should be pretty, subordinate, unintelligent, emotional, and talkative are portrayed in children’s toys, books, commercials, video games, movies, television shows, and music. In adulthood, these differences are reflected in income gaps between men and women (women working full-time earn about 74 percent the income of men), in higher rates of women suffering rape and domestic violence, higher rates of eating disorders for females, and in higher rates of violent death for men in young adulthood.

Gender differences in India can be a matter of life and death as preferences for male children have been historically strong and are still held, especially in rural areas.[30] Male children are given preference for receiving food, breast milk, medical care, and other resources. In some countries, it is no longer legal to give parents information on the sex of their developing child for fear that they will abort a female fetus. Clearly, gender socialization and discrimination still impact development in a variety of ways across the globe. Gender discrimination generally persists throughout the lifespan in the form of obstacles to education, or lack of access to political, financial, and social power.

Family Factors: Parenting Styles

Diana Baumrind’s Parenting Styles

The parenting style used to rear a child will likely impact that child’s future success in romantic, peer and parenting relationships.  Diana Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist, coined the following parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive/indulgent, Later, Maccoby and Martin added the uninvolved/neglectful style.[31]

Decorative photo
Like effective teaching, effective parenting requires a mix of authoritative and considerate responses to a child’s needs. This balance can lead to more appreciative child behavior. (Image Source: Pixabay, CC0)

It is beneficial to evaluate the support and demandingness of a caregiver in order to determine which style is being used and how to effectively use it.  Support refers to the amount of affection, acceptance, and warmth a parent provides to a child.  Demandingness refers to the degree a parent controls a child’s behavior.

Authoritative Parenting

In general, children tend to develop greater competence and self-confidence when parents have high-but reasonable and consistent- expectations for children’s behavior, communicate well with them, are warm and responsive, and use reasoning rather than coercion to guide children’s behaviors.  This kind of parenting style has been described as authoritative.[32]  Parents who use this style are supportive and show interest in their kids’ activities but are not overbearing and allow children to make constructive mistakes.  This “tender teacher” approach deemed the most optimal parenting style to use in western cultures.  Children whose parents use the authoritative style are generally happy, capable, and successful.[33]

Authoritarian Parenting

Photo of a ruler on a table.
Authoritarian parenting called “rigid ruler” in part because wooden rulers were often used for capital punishment in the 20th century. (Image Source: PxFuel)

Parents using the authoritarian (“rigid ruler”) approach are low in support and high in demandingness.  These parents expect and demand obedience because they are “in charge” and they do not provide any explanations for their orders.[34]  Parents also provide well-ordered and structured environments with clearly stated rules.

Many would conclude that this is the parenting style used by Harry Potter’s harsh aunt and uncle, and Cinderella’s vindictive stepmother.  Children reared in environments using the authoritarian approach are more likely to be obedient and proficient, but score lower in happiness, social competence, and self-esteem.

Permissive Parenting

Parents who are high in support and low in demandingness are likely using the permissive-also called the indulgent-style.  Their children tend to rank low in happiness and self-regulation, and are more likely to have problems with authority.  Parents using this approach are lenient, do not expect their children to adhere to boundaries or rules, and avoid confrontation.[35]

Uninvolved Parenting

Children reared by parents who are low in both support and demandingness tend to rank lowest across all life domains, lack self-control, have low self-esteem, and are less competent than their peers.  Parents using the uninvolved (or sometimes referred to as indifferent or neglectful) approach are neglectful or rejecting of their children and do not provide most, if any, necessary parenting responsibilities.

Video Example

Watch about Baumrind’s parenting styles

Parenting Styles and Outcomes for Children

Parenting style has been found to predict child well-being in the domains of social competence, academic performance, psychosocial development, and problem behavior.  Research in the United States, based on parent interviews, child reports, and parent observations consistently finds:

  • Children and adolescents whose parents use the authoritative style typically rate themselves and are rated by objective measures as more socially and instrumentally competent than those whose parents do not use the authoritative style.[36] [37] [38]
  • Children and adolescents whose parents are uninvolved typically perform most poorly in all domains.

In general, parental responsiveness tends to predict social competence and psychosocial functioning, while parental demandingness is typically associated with instrumental competence and behavioral control (e.g., academic performance and deviance). These findings indicate:

  • Children and adolescents reared in households using the authoritarian style (high in demandingness, but low in responsiveness) tend to perform moderately well in school and be uninvolved in problem behavior, but tend to have poorer social skills, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of depression when compared to their peers who are reared in households using the authoritative approach.
  • Children and adolescents reared in homes using the indulgent style (high in responsiveness, low in demandingness) tend to be more involved in problem behavior and perform less well in school, but they have been shown to have higher self-esteem, better social skills, and lower levels of depression when compared to their peers who are not reared using the indulgent style.[39]
Table 1. Four parenting styles. Other, less advantageous parenting styles include authoritarian (in contrast to authoritative), permissive, and uninvolved.
Support (Low) Support (High)
Demand (Low) Uninvolved Permissive
Demand (High Authoritarian Authoritative

In reviewing the literature on parenting styles, it is apparent that using the authoritative parenting style is associated with both instrumental and social competence and lower levels of problem behavior at all developmental stages for youth in the United States.  The benefits of using the authoritative parenting style and the detrimental effects of the uninvolved parenting style are evident as early as the preschool years and continue throughout adolescence and into early adulthood.

Support for Baumrind’s Authoritative Parenting

Support for the benefits of authoritative parenting has been found in countries as diverse as the Czech Republic,[40] India,[41] China,[42] Israel,[43] and Palestine.[44] In fact, authoritative parenting appears to be superior in Western, individualistic societies—so much so that some people have argued that there is no longer a need to study it.[45]

Other researchers are less certain about authoritative parenting and point to differences in cultural values and beliefs.  For example, while many children reared in European-American cultures fare poorly with too much strictness (authoritarian parenting), children reared in Chinese cultures often perform well, especially academically.  The reason for this likely stems from Chinese culture viewing strictness in parenting as related to training, which is not central to American parenting beliefs.[46]

As children mature, parent-child relationships should naturally adapt to accommodate developmental changes.  Parent-child relationships that do not adapt to a child’s abilities can lead to high parent-child conflict and ultimately a reduced parent-child relationship quality.[47]

Stress in Early Childhood

A boy looking at the camera, while he sits with his arms crossed in front of him.
Young children exposed to toxic stress are at risk of developing physical, emotional, and social symptoms.

What is the impact of stress on child development? The answer to that question is complex and depends on several factors including the number of stressors, the duration of stress, and the child’s ability to cope with stress.

Children experience different types of stressors that could be manifest in various ways. Normal, everyday stress can provide an opportunity for young children to build coping skills and poses little risk to development. Even long-lasting stressful events, such as changing schools or losing a loved one, can be managed fairly well.

Some experts have theorized that there is a point where prolonged or excessive stress becomes harmful and can lead to serious health effects. When stress builds up in early childhood, neurobiological factors are affected; in turn, levels of the stress hormone cortisol exceed normal ranges. Due in part to the biological consequences of excessive cortisol, children can develop physical, emotional, and social symptoms. Physical conditions include cardiovascular problems, skin conditions, susceptibility to viruses, headaches, or stomach aches in young children. Emotionally, children may become anxious or depressed, violent, or feel overwhelmed. Socially, they may become withdrawn and act out towards others, or develop new behavioral ticks such as biting nails or picking at skin.

Types of Stress

Researchers have proposed three distinct types of responses to stress in young children: positive, tolerable, and toxic. Positive stress (also called eustress) is necessary and promotes resilience, or the ability to function competently under threat. Such stress arises from brief, mild to moderate stressful experiences, buffered by the presence of a caring adult who can help the child cope with the stressor. This type of stress causes minor, temporary physiological and hormonal changes in the young child such as an increase in heart rate and a change in hormone cortisol levels. The first day of school, a family wedding or making new friends are all examples of positive stressors. Tolerable stress comes from adverse experiences that are more intense in nature but short-lived and can usually be overcome. Some examples of tolerable stressors are family disruptions, accidents or the death of a loved one. The body’s stress response is more intensely activated due to severe stressors; however, the response is still adaptive and temporary.

Toxic stress is a term coined by pediatrician Jack P. Shonkoff of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University to refer to chronic, excessive stress that exceeds a child’s ability to cope, especially in the absence of supportive caregiving from adults. Extreme, long-lasting stress in the absence of supportive relationships to buffer the effects of a heightened stress response can produce damage and weakening of bodily and brain systems, which can lead to diminished physical and mental health throughout a person’s lifetime. Exposure to such toxic stress can result in the stress response system becoming more highly sensitized to stressful events, producing increased wear and tear on physical systems through over-activation of the body’s stress response. This wear and tear increases the later risk of various physical and mental illnesses.

Consequences of Toxic Stress

Children who experience toxic stress or who live in extremely stressful situations of abuse over long periods of time can suffer long-lasting effects. The structures in the midbrain or limbic system, such as the hippocampus and amygdala, can be vulnerable to prolonged stress.[48] High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can reduce the size of the hippocampus and affect a child’s memory abilities. Stress hormones can also reduce immunity to disease. If the brain is exposed to long periods of severe stress, it can develop a low threshold, making a child hypersensitive to stress in the future.

With chronic toxic stress, children undergo long term hyper-arousal of brain stem activity. This includes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and arousal states. These children may experience a change in brain chemistry, which leads to hyperactivity and anxiety. Therefore, it is evident that chronic stress in a young child’s life can create significant physical, emotional, psychological, social and behavioral changes; however, the effects of stress can be minimized if the child has the support of caring adults.

Video Example

This short video explains some of the biological changes that accompany toxic stress.

You can view the transcript for “3. Toxic Stress Derails Healthy Development” here (opens in new window).

Coping with Stress

Stress is encountered in four different stages. In the first stage, stress usually causes alarm. Next, in the second or appraisal stage, the child attempts to find meaning from the event. Stage three consists of children seeking out coping strategies. Lastly, in stage four, children execute one or more of the coping strategies. However, children with a lower tolerance for stressors are more susceptible to alarm and find a broader array of events to be stressful. These children often experience chronic or toxic stress.

Some recommendations to help children manage stressful situations include:

  • Preparing children for everyday stressful situations, such as traveling to new places or going to the doctor. For example, talk to children about the experience to help them understand that it is okay to be stressed and scared.
  • Keeping communication open. This includes making sure that the child feels comfortable talking to a person. This may include being in a comfortable space, such as their bedroom, where they feel safe. The comfort level of the child is important because if a child is not comfortable, or feels forced to speak, they may not open up at all.
  • Spending time together as a family so that no one’s feelings go unseen; ensuring that a child knows that their feelings are valued, and should be expressed in healthy ways.
  • Modeling healthy and successful coping mechanisms (such as going for a walk).
  • Encouraging children to express themselves creatively (as an outlet or to help others to understand what is stressing the child). Some healthy outlets of stress relief include sports or running, writing, reading, art, as well as playing musical instruments.
  • Teaching children to act and think positively when they are faced with a situation to manage the stress before it becomes overwhelming.
  • Providing a safe and healthy home and environment for children.
  • Providing children with proper nutrition and attention.
  • Ensuring children are not exposed to substance abuse or violence. When a healthy environment is provided, children are more likely to be emotionally and physically health.

This video describes a variety of factors involved in the development of resilience.

You can view the transcript for “InBrief: The Science of Resilience” here (opens in new window).

Trauma in Childhood

Childhood trauma is referred to in academic literature as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Children may go through a range of experiences that classify as psychological trauma, these might include neglect, abandonment, sexual abuse, physical abuse, parent or sibling treated violently, separation or incarceration of parents, or having a parent with a mental illness. These events have profound psychological, physiological, and sociological impacts and can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being.

Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 1998 study on adverse childhood experiences determined that traumatic experiences during childhood are a root cause of many social, emotional, and cognitive impairments that lead to increased risk of unhealthy self-destructive behaviors, risk of violence or re-victimization, chronic health conditions, low life potential, and premature mortality. As the number of adverse experiences increases, the risk of problems from childhood through adulthood also rises. Nearly 30 years of study following the initial study has confirmed this. Many states, health providers, and other groups now routinely screen parents and children for ACEs.

Video Example

Watch this Ted talk from pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris as she explains the impact of childhood trauma across the lifespan.

You can view the transcript for “How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime | Nadine Burke Harris” here (opens in new window).

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