As I work with various communities, a returning issue I hear about is the first 2000 days of a person’s life. I first learned about this number, 2000, at the Smart Start of New Hanover County’s 2000 Days Community Summit. It was here that parents, teachers, clergy, social workers, police officers, and physicians gathered to learn and discuss how to best support our local children in the first 2000 days of their lives. Smart Start looks closely at the various ways that trauma, poor nutrition, lack of safety, and situational distress can affect the brain in childhood and consequently into adulthood.
A physician remarked on how common and long-lasting childhood trauma is, and even though it occurs at young ages: “A child may not remember but the body will remember.”
Why 2000? This is the number of days between birth and the start of kindergarten. This is a crucial season in a person’s life, hugely formative and sets the pace for the rest of a person’s life. As Smart Start of New Hanover County shared: “During that time brain architecture is forming, creating the foundation for all future learning. Child development is a dynamic, interactive process that is not predetermined. It occurs in the context of relationships, experiences and environments. Harvard University neuroscientist Jack Shonkoff puts it this way, “brains are built, not born.”
During the 2000 Days of Community Summit, I learned about the research gathered on ACEs: Adverse Childhood Experiences. ACEs are childhood traumas that contribute to chronic, long-lasting stress in a child’s body and brain. This lasting toxic stress inhibits healthy growth- emotionally, mentality, and physically. ACEs can rapidly harm learning, memory, social skills, depression, anxiety, hormone balance, immunity, overall physical health, and the opportunity to succeed. Examples of Adverse Childhood Experiences include all types of abuse (emotional, physical, sexual), emotional and physical neglect, household substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce, being homeless, natural disasters or war, if a parent is abused by another adult in the home, witnessing violence in the home or community, or witnessing a sibling be abused.
ACEs during childhood must be treated because they increase the risk of: substance abuse, adolescent pregnancy, heart disease, suicide, liver disease, depression, anxiety, attention-deficit disorders, and intimate partner violence.
The good news is that in the event of Adverse Childhood Experiences, a child can still overcome the trauma and return to good health. Smart Start refers to this as ‘Resilience’. Resilience can occur when we help children understand their feelings and emotions tied to the trauma so that a child can then help manage their responses to it. Resilience also happens when a child ultimately feels safe again. Creating an emotional and physical safe home, school, and community is crucial. Much of a child’s stress is due to a lack of security and safety. According to the Community & Family Services Division at Spokane Regional Health District, resilience looks like: Having resilient parents that can problem solve and be health adults; building nurturing relationships; meeting basic needs; building social and emotional skills.
Our churches are involved with children through programming, worship, youth activities, VBS Camp, and much more. As we encourage each other towards a more healthy and whole life, let us all be aware of the health needs of children so they have every opportunity to grow into healthy adults.
A helpful introduction to this work and issue is the documentary ‘Resilience’: Resilience Trailer
Helpful resources also include:
ACES 101: acestoohigh.com/aces-101/