Use Creative Expression to Help Kids Facing ACEs

Article written by, Lacie Braun, LMHC.

ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, are being talked about more and more in schools, clinics, and any other place where kids are being served. Why?

ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, are being talked about more and more in schools, clinics, and any other place where kids are being served. Why? Because we’re understanding more about the importance of recognizing kids’ experiences of bullying, violence, abuse, and neglect so that we can intervene as soon as possible to interrupt the potential long-term impacts of ACEs on a person’s well-being. In fact, we can also introduce social-emotional learning skills to prevent some of the symptoms of toxic stress from taking a toll.

If you aren’t already familiar with ACEs, Kaiser Permanente and the CDC did a study in 1995 that researched how trauma in childhood affects the mental and physical well-being of adults. The initial study surveyed 17,000 adults and asked about abuse, neglect, and various household dysfunctions. They called these events Adverse Childhood Experiences. What they learned might surprise you, or it might validate what you’ve already known: the more ACEs a person has, the higher the risk of physiological and psychological problems later in life.

In fact, with a score of 4 or more ACEs, adults are 4.5 times as likely to develop depression, have 2 times the level of liver disease, and have 11 times the level of IV drug use, among other concerns.

Knowing this, we need to start earlier in helping kids cope with the impact of ACEs. Creative expression is a significant intervention to use because it activates the same parts of the brain (including the prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus, and the amygdala) that are affected by the toxic stress of ACEs. Art with Heart’s art based therapeutic activities is an easy tool for you to integrate into the work you are already doing with kids, and are flexible to your unique environment, whether you have 5 or 50 minutes to connect with a kid. A favorite activity from our book Ink About It that’s been used in schools, grief camps, and as a classroom SEL tool is called “Missing You.” It uses watercolors and poetry to help kids express grief in a manageable way, offering specific prompts to guide kids as they think about someone they miss and connect that person with a color to create a watercolor wash. Through creative expression kids are also able to build resilience as they explore and express their emotions, interrupting the possibility of long-term impacts of ACEs.

To find out more about toxic stress and the brain, and how you can start using creative expression in your work, join us for our webinar that explores learning how to use creative expression to help kids facing ACEs. We also have free resources like caregivers guides, lessons and more in our learning center that you can utilize right now to begin using creative expression in your practice.

About the author: Lacie Braun is a Licensed Mental Health Therapist in Seattle, WA who serves as a Curriculum and Training Development Consultant with Art with Heart.

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