Center for Child Counseling Merges with KidSafe to Fight Sexual Abuse


October 3, 2022
For immediate release
Media contact: Cara Scarola Hansen
Center for Child Counseling Public Relations Counsel

Center for Child Counseling Merges with KidSafe to Fight Sexual Abuse 

Merger elevates kids’ safety in the fight against adverse childhood experiences, particularly preventing and treating sexual abuse.

Center for Child Counseling (CFCC) in collaboration with KidSafe Foundation announce the merger of the two not-for-profit organizations which both serve children and families with the shared goal of healthy families, schools, and communities. Effective October 1, 2022, KidSafe now operates under CFCC, knowing that the two entities will be stronger together in their education and prevention of child sexual abuse and childhood trauma.

Every nine minutes, a child is a victim of sexual abuse and assault ( Of those children who are sexually abused, 90% are abused by someone they know and trust. Sexual abuse can have long-lasting physical and emotional effects, including: depression, eating disorders, self-blame, self-destructive behaviors, cyclical abuse, learning disabilities, drug abuse.

Since 2009, KidSafe Foundation has empowered over 60,000 children with personal safety education and has taught over 50,000 parents, guardians, teachers, and child-serving professionals how to keep kids safe. In addition to protecting children from sexual abuse, KidSafe teaches children safety tools and skills that help them make safe and smart choices in all areas as they become healthy, powerful adults.
Research has shown that unaddressed mental health problems among children can lead to lower educational achievement, greater involvement with the criminal justice system, and poor health and social outcomes overall.

Since 1999, Center for Child Counseling has supported thousands of children each year, preventing and healing the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and trauma, while promoting resiliency and healthy relationships. CFCC launched its Fighting ACEs initiative in 2016 to promote a public health approach to preventing and healing the effects of early adversity and trauma on children to build healthier, safer, more nurturing families, schools, and communities.

As part of this initiative, CFCC CEO Renée Layman explains, “We are looking at each of the ACEs and how we can provide prevention and education to build caregiver and community capacity, in addition to treatment to help children and families heal after trauma. We don’t want to replicate what anyone is doing. When we started looking at a public health approach and prevention of sexual abuse, KidSafe already had everything perfectly in place.”

Under the leadership and direction of CEO Laura Askowitz and Co-Founder Cherie Benjoseph, KidSafe has gone from grass-roots to sustainable and has built an evidence-informed, research-based, innovative curriculum that educates and empowers children to advocate for their own personal safety–thereby preventing sexual abuse or a continuous cycle of abuse and a lifetime of health issues.

According to Askowitz, “This merger allows KidSafe programming to be even more accessible to the community. Our education absolutely reduces children’s vulnerability to exploitation, but at its core, it’s really about arming children with resiliency and preventing life-long trauma from ACEs. That’s why this was a natural fit: combining resources to serve more children and help them grow up to be healthy, powerful adults.”

The merger of the two organizations promotes continued growth of the KidSafe program under the infrastructure and support of CFCC’s larger staff. KidSafe’s six staff members will join Center for Child Counseling as key members of their 70-person staff, contributing to the continued program development of the agency’s fight against sexual abuse as well as their fight against all the other ACEs. As the new Director of Strategic Development for CFCC, Askowitz will help build sustainability for the agency and expand and grow its impact.

As members of the nonprofit sector, both Layman and Askowitz view this merger as a responsibility to their funding partners’ and the community’s limited resources–ensuring proper sustainability so that the education and care reach more children and families.

About Center for Child Counseling
Since 1999, Center for Child Counseling has been building the foundation for playful, healthful, and hopeful living for children and families in Palm Beach County. Its services focus on preventing and healing the effects of adverse experiences and toxic stress on children, promoting resiliency and healthy family, school, and community relationships.

For more information, visit Twitter: @ChildCounselPBC Facebook: @CenterforChildCounseling Instagram: @childcounselpbc

The following interviews are available related to this merger:

Renée Layman, Chief Executive Officer of Center for Child Counseling
Laura Aksowitz, Former Chief Executive Officer of KidSafe

Click here to view news release.


How to Answer Kids’ Tough Questions

Trauma-Informed Ways to Talk to Children

Stress and loss is impacting our children's mental health and well-being. We get the calls every day from parents and caregivers, needing support to help children cope and heal.

Developed by our experts in child mental health and trauma, we are pleased to offer Ways to Talk to Children resources, at no cost, for parents, teachers, and caregivers across Florida and the nation.

It is important to talk to your child about real situations that may be impacting their mental health and well-being. The workshops, videos, and resources were created to help you have these tough conversations, in developmentally appropriate and trauma-informed ways.

We encourage you to share these resources with the parents, caregivers, and teachers in your life.

Ways to Talk to Children about Grief

Grief is the intense emotional reaction and distress in response to loss, usually associated with death but it can include separation or the ending of a close relationship.

The thought of having to explain grief to a child can leave us feeling uncertain about the best way to approach the topic to avoid causing unnecessary distress for the child, especially when we may be grieving also.

Learn more or register for our free, 80-minute workshop here. Visit our Ways to Talk to Children page for more videos, tip sheets, and free workshops.

Our passionate Education and Prevention Services team is dedicated to bringing you relevant, best practice content to support your child and family. Let us know if there are topics you'd like us to address.

This work is possible through funding from the Florida Blue Foundation, Children's Services Council of Palm Beach County, and the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County - thank you for your commitment to children and families in our community.

CFCC Featured by Education Week!

Using Play Therapy to Help Children Heal and Build Resilience

We are grateful to Education Week for the national recognition of our work. These two videos highlight our use of Play Therapy to help children heal after trauma and our partnership with The Fuller Center, where our CCSEW Program provides on-site prevention, early intervention, and mental health services for children, their caregivers, and families.

One Family's Story Using Play Therapy to Address Trauma

The Hughes’ family fostered their daughters for three years before adopting them in 2020. With their adoption came stability, but also loss, the recognition that they wouldn’t be going back to their biological family.

To help them work through their many emotions, and the trauma they’ve experienced, the girls have received services through Center for Child Counseling, where they’ve learned through play therapy how to talk about and work through difficult emotions.

Thank you Aria, Asia, and Bailey for sharing your story. To advocate for children in our community, Bailey is a member of our Board of Directors and has developed a nonprofit, The Hands and Feet, to support children and families coming into foster care.

A special thank you to Anne-Marie, Kayla, Tray, and all of our staff who are on the frontlines supporting children in our community every day. We are grateful for your passion!

Building Child Resilience During Times of Stress

The Impact of Loss and Stress on our Children's Mental Health

Research shows that an estimated 160,000 children lost a parent or caregiver during the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death among Americans in 2021, so many children also lost extended family members or close family friends.

Death is not the only form of loss that children have faced over the past three years. They have experienced the loss of friendships through physical separation. They have lost out on rites of passage like starting a new school, attending dances and big games, playdates, proms, and being celebrated at graduation.

Many children also lost their sense of safety and security. Families have been shaken by uncertainty, stress, and financial hardship, that continues to grow in a climate of political conflict and divisiveness in our country. We see images of war and school shootings on the news. These experiences have hit children and teenagers hard and we are experiencing a youth mental health crisis, already a concern before the pandemic. A new two-part Ken Burns PBS documentary, Hiding in Plain Sight, highlights the crisis.

“We have so much work to do to help our children heal,” says First Lady Jill Biden. “It’s impossible not to be moved by the pain that these young people and their families share,” she said. “But there was so much hope there, too. Because they had all found a way from that darkness towards the light.” Comments after watching "In Plain Sight" at the White House Screening.

With all of the turmoil and stress we feel, we must remember that there are concrete ways to build child resilience. These seven tips, shared by Kerry Jamieson in our Fighting ACEs Blog: Building Family Resilience in Troubled Times, are a great reminder:

Seven Ways to Build Resilience

Is it any wonder our children are struggling? Even though our reserves may be depleted, and many family relationships are burdened by the cumulative effects of fatigue and added hardship, now is the time to work on building resilience – in or children and for our families.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from stress, adversity, failure, challenges, or even trauma. While scientists believe that resilience may have a genetic component, it's not generally a quality that a child either has or doesn’t have; it's really more of a skill that a child develops as they grow. Like a muscle that needs to be exercised, children can be helped to practice their resilience skills.

Talk. Talk. Talk.
The old adage is true: Keep the lines of communication open to strengthen your relationships. You can use the technique of asking open-ended questions in order to draw out your children's true feelings on different subjects.

This means asking questions that require more than a simple yes or no answer. You can ask your child how certain situations make them feel. You can ask them if they're experiencing anxiety or trepidation about going back to school. Asking “why” questions tends to get to the root cause of issues rather than asking questions that simply require factual answers. Open communication develops trust.

Children who believe they can speak to their parents openly and honestly feel as if they have someone to rely on, someone who won't automatically judge them, and these positive adult influences help buffer the effects of stress.

If you are having trouble tackling tough topics with your child, check out our Ways to Talk to Children free resources, including workshops, tip sheets, and videos.

Allow Children to Learn and Fail
As adults, particularly as parents, we sometimes try to jump in to prevent our children from failing. It is difficult to watch them struggle when we know we could help. But children need to take risks and push themselves outside their comfort zone to build resilience. Trying something new and succeeding at it gives a child a sense of achievement and the knowledge that they can do new things and do them well. However, trying and failing is equally valuable. Taking a risk with something new that does not work out teaches children that they can survive setbacks. Rather than helping our children avoid risks, we should encourage them to take safe risks and then talk through the meaning of success and failure.

Teach Problem-Solving; Don’t Give Answers
Adults often have the answers to small problems and issues, but we learned those solutions from years of living our lives. Children do not have the benefits of this wisdom. They are still learning. They don’t have the perspective of time and experience. Rather than providing your child with the answer to every question, it's more beneficial to let them reason it out with you. You can ask skillful questions to lead them along the right path, but the lesson is better learned when they reach the conclusion on their own.

Help Identify Emotions
Children who are "acting out" are often behaving that way because they lack the language to describe the frustration they are feeling. They lack the ability to adequately express themselves. You can work with your child to identify the emotions they're experiencing and help them reason out why they are experiencing them. For example, you might say to a child who cannot master a game and has started crying: “You feel frustrated because the game is hard and you can’t seem to get it right.” This is called reflection because you are simply mirroring back to your child what they are feeling and helping them identify and name the emotion. You can let them know that the emotion is normal and that it will pass.

Labeling emotions and teaching children how to manage them is a large part of good parenting. You can learn more about childhood development, reflective listening, and limit setting in our manual for parents, teachers, and caregivers entitled: “A Way of Being with Children: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Resilience.”

Acknowledge Mistakes
It is not a weakness to acknowledge our mistakes. We all make them! The most honest and resilient people are happy to accept this fact. They share their failures openly and, more importantly, they share what they learned from them. You can share your mistakes with your children and let them know why you made the mistake and how you will do things differently next time. This is a key component of resilience. We will all face challenges in our lives and whether we succeed or fail, we should not miss the lessons that can be learned.

Coping Skills and Modeling Self-Care
Children learn through imitation. They look to the adults in their lives to learn how to respond and behave. So, it's essential that we model positive behaviors that they can copy. As adults, we can demonstrate calming ourselves down when we are irritated or angry, practicing deep breathing, and focusing on positivity and a firm belief in a brighter future. You can learn some fun and useful breathing techniques for adults and children on our resources page. You can also model self-care, demonstrating to your children that it is okay to take time for yourself when we're feeling overwhelmed. In fact, it is essential to practice kindness and self-love.

Bring Positives Into Your Life
There are activities that make all of us feel better. Scientific research shows the benefits of exercise and spending time in nature. Encourage your children to take part in outdoor activities. Play is one of the ways children express themselves and it is essential to healthy development. You can also encourage your children to develop an interest in crafts, art projects, music, drama, writing, and any other positive activity that allows them to express their individuality.

The more a child understands his or her uniqueness (and the more you can accept and appreciate them for who they really are), the more they will understand that they are equipped to face any adversity that may come their way...and that good times, positivity, and happiness lie ahead for them and their family.

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A Message From Our CEO

Grieving. Let Your Voice be Heard 1,400 miles Away.

Our hearts are broken for the families and community of Uvalde, Texas. The unimaginable terror that the innocent children faced at their school–a place where safety should be expected and guaranteed–is unacceptable. The potential of future change-makers was grotesquely robbed by the use of an assault weapon breaching the walls of a fourth-grade classroom. The survivors will carry that trauma with them for the rest of their lives. Their families, community, and our country carry the grief and loss with us: hopefully not turning numb but taking action to prevent another senseless act of violence that can be prevented.

As a nation, as a community, as individuals within that community and nation, we must take action now! It is time we rip off the band-aid approaches that fail to address the heart of issues, like mass shootings, and create a system that cares for our most vulnerable children. School shootings won't be solved with more armed police officers or guards or by arming our school teachers. Easy access to guns, whether at home or purchasing, is contributing to the problem. We need solutions!

The school shooters in Uvalde, Parkland, Santa Fe, Newton, and Columbine were all under the age of 21; so, let's use the science of what we know. The human brain is not fully developed at 18 or even 21, and sometimes not at age 25. 18 year-olds are impulsive and should not be permitted to go out and purchase guns. It is not a matter of taking away our Second Amendment right to bear arms but refining gun laws to prohibit young civilians from purchasing assault weapons that result in senseless mass shootings.

In addition to looking at our gun laws, we must address our policies around and access to mental health care, particularly prevention and early intervention for children experiencing adverse childhood experiences. In a report by the Secret Service, they found that nearly all school shooters experienced negative home life factors, most had been bullied or had a history of school disciplinary issues, and all exhibited concerning behaviors. There are costly, long-term consequences when we ignore the impact of these experiences. At what point is the price too high?

We must ensure that EVERY child has a sense of safety, connectedness, and belonging. We must tackle things like bullying and help children develop the skills to promote self-regulation, conflict resolution, stress management, empathy, and resilience.

Currently, most mental health supports wait until a child is experiencing a crisis or behavioral concern. We must be able to actively identify kids not only with externalizing behaviors, but those with internalizing behaviors–those silent children who are often missed and may be the victims of abuse, domestic violence, or bullying. Equipping our schools to take a widespread approach with prevention, including training and support, is also key to stopping these tragedies.

As our broken hearts bleed with sadness, anger, and grief, let's take action. Our nation, our communities, our children deserve more. Every child deserves to grow up feeling safe and loved–especially in school.

At the Center for Child Counseling, we focus on a public health approach to building awareness and action around addressing childhood adversity and trauma. We were founded with the vision that every child will grow up feeling safe and nurtured in communities where they can thrive. We will continue to bring awareness to system leaders around fighting childhood adversity with advocacy and action. We invite you to join us. Take action and let your voice be heard!

Renée Layman, President and CEO

Building Hope and Resilience Through Connection

Every child is filled with tremendous promise – and, as a community, we have a shared obligation to foster that potential.

The stress of the past two years has been unprecedented. The current state of the world has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health, well-being, and even sense of hope for the future.

Our families and communities are struggling with overwhelming grief and loss arising from the pandemic. Economic insecurity, racism and discrimination, political unrest – and now a war are additional threats to our sense of safety. These experiences are potentially traumatic, and if unbuffered, may have long-term health consequences.

Anxiety, depression, and suicide rates in teenagers were increasing and at an all-time high before the pandemic. The cumulative impact of social isolation, loss, and stress have amplified mental health concerns. As mental health providers, we simply can’t address these issues alone.

How do we build hope and resilience when it feels like our world is burning down?

In February, Benjamin Perks was the keynote speaker at Center for Child Counseling’s (CFCC) Lead the Fight event. In his address, he explained the importance of connection, not as a luxury but part of our evolutionary biology. “We depend on adults for three things–for love, for nurture, and for protection. We have a biological need to be loved…it’s there from day one.”

Anyone who has looked into the eyes of a newborn baby knows from infancy, humans seek connection. We carry this need for connection throughout our lifetime, and from birth it provides the foundation for all relationships.

Studies show that connection can build resilience in individuals exposed to adversity and trauma. Newer research is looking at how isolation impacts adults struggling with mental illness and the importance of creating networks of support as a part of the treatment process. At varying levels, we all felt the impact of social isolation during the pandemic.

Building hope and resilience for the future means building a community where all children and families feel loved, protected, nurtured – and connected. As we continue to emerge in the aftermath of COVID-19, we need to actively work on developing positive social connections and relationships, particularly for children, families, and communities who have experienced an overabundance of adversity, stress, and trauma.

How do we go about building resilience for those who have experienced ongoing adversity and trauma? First, we must shift our concept of resilience, which is often conceptualized as an individual trait, which means it is up to the individual to fix themselves, rather than looking at systemic issues that may keep adversity and trauma firmly in place. Shifting our mindsets to view resilience as a community trait and putting our efforts into creating communities where we care for EVERY child and family must be at the forefront.

Creating opportunities for Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) through buffering relationships is the antidote to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Every one of us has the opportunity to make a difference for a child facing adversity, whether as a teacher, coach, mentor, or attorney. For a powerful example of this in action, Juleus Ghunta, author of “Rohan Bullkin and the Shadows: A Story about ACEs and Hope” talks about his life and experiences as a survivor of about 18 adverse childhood experiences.

As a community, it is up to all of us to build hope and resilience for the future.

At the Center for Child Counseling, we focus on a public health approach to building awareness and action around addressing childhood adversity and trauma.

The science of prevention shows that we don’t have to wait for a child to fall apart emotionally before we do something, so building the capacity of caregivers and our entire community is essential. Collective efforts such as Birth to 22 and BeWellPBC are working toward creating an equitable community where all children have the opportunity to grow up feeling safe and loved.

The leadership and passion that drives this work provides us all with hope for the future.

This article was in April 2022 edition of The Well of PBC, click here to read the full issue. For more information and resources, check out our ACEs Toolkit, Fighting ACEs White Paper, and A Way of Being with Children: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Building Resilience.

Through grants through the Florida Blue Foundation, Children's Services Council of Palm Beach County, and the Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County, there is no cost for the A Way of Being with Children manual and training for childcare centers, schools, and organizations in Palm Beach County. Learn more about our mission and impact: A message from our CEO.

The Power of Relationships

Building healthy relationships or ‘relational health’ provides a strong foundation for life-long well-being, including boosting self-esteem, functioning better under stress, and even having better overall physical health.

On the other hand, poor relational health increases our risk for psychological distress.

Early relational health (ERH) is a term describing positive child development as a result of nurturing, warm, and responsive parent/caregiver child relationships – and safe communities defined by trust and social connectedness.

Maintaining healthy relationships takes time and attention, even under the best of times. Building or maintaining strong relationships in times of intense stress is far more challenging. Think about the stress that most of us have experienced because of the pandemic. The stress and resulting emotional fallout, particularly for children who were already facing adversity, call for immediate action and a public health approach that supports prevention and early intervention strategies.

Julie Fisher Cummings, Chair of the Board for the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties and Trustee of the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation states, “EARLY MATTERS! Research shows that 80% of brain development occurs by age 3. Recognizing this and acknowledging that social determinants of health constitute public health imperatives. Fisher Foundation has funded or is currently funding initiatives and programs as an embedded funder in Detroit to improve conditions and outcomes for children.”

Over the past few years, Mrs. Fisher Cummings has partnered with Center for Child Counseling to advocate and raise awareness across systems that make decisions on behalf of our children about the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Adverse Community Environments. Utilizing a public health approach allows us the greatest opportunity to create systemic change because it addresses the causes, consequences, and potential cures for the impact on our youngest and most vulnerable children – and promoting relational health between children and their caregivers is at the heart of this work.

We must work toward having a society where all children grow up feeling safe and loved. Societal issues such as racism and poverty are complex but can be defeated. Science shows that many of the answers rest in early childhood.

The need has never been more urgent. There has been overwhelming grief and loss due to the pandemic. According to a recent study more than 140,000 children, primarily in communities of color, have lost a parent or caregiving grandparent to COVID-19. The death of a parent or caregiver in childhood is a significant trauma which may result in profound long-term consequences for health and well-being.

It is vital that parents and caregivers have the core capabilities - executive functioning and self-regulation skills - needed to support children’s mental health and resilience through safe, nurturing relationships. The call to action is creating a system that nurtures our most vulnerable children and families, fighting against inequities that keep intergenerational trauma firmly in place.

Mrs. Fisher Cummings states, “All are needed to create a world where every child has a chance to succeed by receiving the same support and care as my own grandchildren.”


Center for Child Counseling

Center on the Developing Child-Harvard University


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Beating Back-to-School Worries

When vaccines were approved to counteract the devastating effects of the global pandemic, many felt tremendous relief at the thought of life returning to a semblance of normality. But with the surging Delta variant now at play, especially in Florida, we are once again donning masks and adapting to mandates. There is no doubt that some of these issues are polarizing, but we can choose to look beyond political disagreements and focus on our children, find consensus to meet their mental health needs during this historically challenging time.

This is an unprecedentedly confusing season for all of us — even more so for children who may not fully understand the constant changes we are all facing. As our little ones return to school, they may encounter different rules there than at the local mall, for example. What presents a danger and what doesn’t in the face of an invisible, indiscriminate virus?

A good place to start is to ensure your children understand as much as they can about the virus and the choices your family (and their school) are making. Most schools are doing their best to communicate their policies to teachers and parents, and enforce them for everybody’s safety. You can do your part by helping your child understand, in an age-appropriate way, what we know about the virus and why we are changing our behavior to protect the health of ourselves and others. There are great articles for older kids and, since most children love watching animation, you can augment your conversation with countless well-produced YouTube videos for all ages on understanding the virus, how vaccines work, why we are wearing masks, and how to manage worries about Covid-19.

Talk About the Science and Their Safety

Our understanding of the science of the virus is constantly evolving based on new data, and so the messages we are receiving from experts and authority figures are changing, too. This is confusing and frustrating for adults, so imagine how confounded our children must be! Keep the lines of communication open and make the topic approachable and open to discussion.

In general, these tips are helpful:

  • Communicate often, especially when mandates/rules change.
  • Explain that scientists and researchers are learning more about the virus every day. Reinforce that, as we learn more and understand the virus better, we need to change our behaviors based on the best knowledge we have at the time.
  • Because change can be scary, explain to children that we make behavioral changes (like wearing a mask again) because we know more now. We are always adapting so we can be as strong as possible in our fight against the virus.
  • Of course, in order to do this, we must follow the latest developments from reputable sources. These include national agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and the National Institutes for Health. You can rely on scientific research published in scientific journals like The Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, and the Journal of the American Medical Association which are all highly reputable and, most importantly, peer-reviewed and validated.
  • On the flipside, avoid sharing fearmongering, unsubstantiated rumors and stories that spread like wildfire on social media platforms. Encourage older children to use their common sense thinking to evaluate the truth of rumors they hear. You can even help them cross-reference and check these stories against the valid data provided by long-standing and distinguished organizations.
  • Children look to the trusted adults in their lives to model behavior that they then tend to adopt themselves. This means if you remain calm, measured in your responses, and reasonable, your children are more likely to feel safe and display those same traits.
  • Of course, more anxious children may need more time to accept and adapt to change and may require more of your time and attention during this time.

Why Change is Hard for Children

Change is difficult for children. Transitions of any kind require quite a lot of mental processing skills – skills that children may not have fully developed yet, so patience is required. Returning to school represents an enormous change for children, many of whom have spent more than a year being home schooled. It may feel daunting, even for the most self-confident child. We offer an online training on “Implementing Effective Transitions for Children” that is accompanied by a handy, printable tip sheet on the subject.

Of course, some situations unique to being back in school may arise again after lying dormant during the pandemic. Issues like bullying, difficulties socializing or making friends, having to share with others, focusing on work, and simply taking turns may all need to be handled anew by teachers and parents.

There are ways you can make back-to-school better, however, even for children who have become accustomed to having parents close by at all times during the pandemic.

Acknowledge Anxiety:
Feeling anxious or afraid is normal and okay – everybody feels these emotions from time to time. Teach your child that we can name and manage our emotions. Remind them that they have been afraid before and will likely be afraid again but they can control their responses to fear. This will help lower anxiety by providing perspective. You can remind them: “Remember when you were afraid of the swimming pool? But you learned how to swim and now you’re like a little fish.” You can work with your child to name the exact emotion they are feeling; sometimes just naming an emotion (“I am feeling fear because this is a new situation for me.”) helps diminish its hold. Talking things through is essential. As an adult, you have a lifetime of wisdom and experience to draw on and share with your child. For very anxious children, teaching mindfulness and meditation techniques is very helpful. Do this before your child finds his or herself anxious or dysregulated. You can also learn some breathing techniques and other calming behaviors on our website.

Build Independence:
Teaching your children that they are strong and capable on their own is key. You can do this by giving them small, age-appropriate tasks and reinforcing the positive behavior when they succeed. You can say things like:

  • “You were able to set the table all on your own.”
  • “You worked that whole puzzle out by yourself.”
  • “You kept trying even when it was hard.”

Building a track record of succeeding in increasingly more independent tasks helps reinforce resilience.

Establish Routines:
During a year-and-a-half when nothing has felt normal, many useful routines fell by the wayside. Children feel safe and secure when clear boundaries are established and this includes strong routines. Setting up a before school, after school, and evening routine will help your children know what to expect when other parts of their lives feel uncertain and insecure. Combine things they like to do (like hearing a story) as an incentive to do things they may not like but need to complete (like brushing their teeth).

Do Practice Runs:
When things are new, you can lessen anxiety by helping children know what to expect. Drive past their new school or after-school sports facility; show them where exactly they will be going each day. Many schools are focusing on being especially welcoming to new students this year. Encourage your child to take part in any events or activities that allow for meet-and-greet situations with others who are also new.

Build Excitement:
Focus on what’s good. Are they making new friends? Is there one teacher they are finding especially interesting or fun? What is new this year that they haven’t done before? Looking for bright spots is a great antidote to negative or anxious thinking.

Make the Most of Masks:
Masks are undoubtedly a barrier to human communication and closeness. Many of us find it challenging to simply let others know we are smiling, for example, when we are wearing a mask. We offer an online training to help parents, teachers, and caregivers to build resilience and manage children’s anxiety entitled: “Showing Affection During Covid-19.”

As the inevitable ups and downs of this return-to-school period arrive, however, the most important thing to remember is that children are like sponges, absorbing the attitudes, opinions, and atmosphere around them. If you choose to model behaviors that are calm, positive, supportive, and reassuring, you will see that your child will call on their innate resilience, as well as the life skills you have taught them, and find a way to thrive.

Sign up now for news, events, and education about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and promoting resilience.

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ACEs and Attachment: Why Connection Means Everything

Anyone who has ever looked into the intense stare of a newborn baby knows that human beings, from infancy, seek connection. The bond between a baby and its caregivers (usually mom and dad) is one of the strongest of all relationships. It’s the relationship on which all future interactions with others will be based. We are social creatures and much of our communication is nonverbal. This means we rely on body language, gestures, tone of voice, and other subtle clues in addition to the actual words we use to convey the meaning of what we're saying. Babies are attuned to all these forms of communication long before they have the capacity to speak.

From the moment a child is born—in fact long before then, in vitro—they are connecting with their primary caregivers and siblings. Scientific research shows that the degree of connection a child experiences in the first crucial years of life sets them up for success or challenges for the rest of their lives. Let's explore why attachment is so important and why failure to attach as a result of childhood adversity can become a barrier to lifelong health and well-being.

Types of Attachment

Infant and early childhood attachment can be divided into four types:

  1. Secure
    A child feels secure when their needs are met by their caregivers, consistently and lovingly. A child with secure attachment learns that they are important and that adults can be relied upon and trusted.
  2. Insecure
    A child who experiences poor attachment feels insecure and unsafe in their environment. They learn that their needs are not met consistently, and they may become either anxious/resistant or anxious/avoidant types.
  3. Disorganized
    When the attachment is inconsistent (meaning that sometimes the child's needs are met and they are comforted and sometimes they are ignored and become frightened) attachment feels unreliable. The child feels fearful and mistrustful and may show several responses from freezing in the presence of their caregivers to desperately clinging to them.
  4. Disrupted
    When a child does not have a consistent primary caregiver, attachment is especially unreliable. This can occur when children are abandoned, neglected, or shuttled between different parents/caregivers and between a variety of homes without stable relationships.

You can learn more about the different attachment styles here.

Clearly, secure attachment offers a child the best opportunity for a healthy start in life.
Secure attachment offers three major benefits:

  • It gives the child a solid sense of security
  • It helps a child learn to regulate their emotions, experience happiness, and self-calm
  • Offers a good, safe “base camp” from which to explore the world

Sadly, the opposite is also true. A child who has failed to attach securely to his or her caregivers may show developmental impairment, both neurologically and behaviorally. This child may demonstrate learning difficulties and find it hard to form relationships with other children and adults. These issues may plague a child as they grow and manifest as severe issues in adulthood.

Be Aware of the Signs

What early signs can you look for that might suggest a child has had difficulty with attachment? In infants and toddlers, you may see a lack of emotional response or little interest in responding to sights, sounds, or touch. They may reject touch and avoid playing with others. They may find it very hard to soothe themselves or calm down; they may avoid being comforted.

Slightly older children, those of preschool age or in kindergarten, for example, may not wish to play with others; they may not communicate well and often have poor language skills. They may fight frequently with other children and not consider the needs of others. Attachment disorders can result in a child feeling fearful or on-guard at all times. Significantly, they often do not turn to adults for help and this reluctance to trust and bond can further burden the caregiver/child relationship.

Our manual and online training A Way of Being with Children: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Building Resilience dedicates sections to attachment and the neurosequential development of children’s brains to help you better understand the crucial need for security during the first few years of life.

Attachment and ACEs

Clearly, the negative consequences of poor attachment show up early and can last throughout the lifespan. So, where do Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and attachment intersect? When we look at the original list of 10 ACE questions first identified in studies conducted in the mid-1990s, we can identify areas of abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction that contribute to childhood adversity. It is not hard to look at these situations or experiences and see how secure attachment is unlikely to happen in homes where these circumstances are present.

For example, in a home where the primary caregiver has been incarcerated and so is absent, attachment between that caregiver and their child simply cannot occur. The ACE is incarceration of a parent or caregiver, but poor attachment is the result.

For another example, in a home where severe substance abuse is prevalent, the substance abuser may well be unavailable or incapable of forming secure attachment with their child. While the ACE is substance abuse on the part of the caregiver (and possibly neglect), once again the result may well be poor attachment.

In a previous blog, we looked into the issue of Adverse Community Environments. Children being raised in neighborhoods with poor community supports, physical danger due to violence, and a lack of opportunity for their parents and caregivers are at greater risk for high ACE scores. These negative environments place a strain on adults’ ability to form attachment with their children. The environment itself, in the home and in the greater community, is simply not conducive to effective attachment.

While we cannot hope to make up all the ground children with insecure attachment have lost, the good news is that we can go a long way to providing attachment lessons and modeling for young children. The most important thing is to be aware that, sadly, many children entering kindergarten and school arrive without the benefit of having formed secure attachments at home. This one simple fact will help teachers and caregivers understand that not all children arrive ready to learn from the same starting place. Many have missed out on crucial stages of neurological development. Studies show these children may require more care, time, and personal attention but, as an adult in their life, you can provide them with the connection they need to thrive.

Cause for Hope

Even when children have missed out on vital primary caregiver attachment during the formative years, simple connection can go a long way to help them catch up developmentally. The old African proverb: it takes a village to raise a child has never been truer. Positive adult interactions can help buffer the effects of toxic stress in growing children, helping to get their development back on track. Children can benefit from time with well-balanced adults like extended family members, coaches, community leaders, and, crucially, teachers. The realities of modern life, including divorce, job insecurity, financial pressures, and the general increase in population mobility, have taken their toll on the traditional family unit. We now understand that a traditional nuclear family is not the only path to raising successful, happy children, however. Increasingly, studies show that children raised with love, affection, and caring discipline, regardless of who is doing that raising, are likely to enjoy happy outcomes. The key is the quality, patience, and love demonstrated by the caregivers -- no matter who they are. 

Why Teachers Matter Beyond Academics

The role of positive, caring adult in a child’s life is increasingly falling to teachers and those working in childcare settings. These men and women form the framework or scaffolding to build strong human beings for the next generation. Teachers often serve as an attachment figure for children; sometimes, they become real-life heroes in a child's life. The importance of this precious role cannot be overstated. Teachers are the models for many children’s first experience of a successful, calm, well-adjusted adult. By providing “secondary attachment” for children who may have missed out on some of the benefits of secure attachment, teachers can become one of the most important people in a child's life, a member of the child's extended family, and a positive example of a successful adult.

As adults, are we doing our best to compensate for poor attachment and childhood ACEs? Are we doing our very best to model well regulated, resilient behaviors? Center for Child Counseling offer lots of ways to provide positive engagement with children in your life from training workshops, to ways to play, to this educational blog series on Fighting ACEs. Let’s focus on how we interact with young minds because we may be the best example to a child who is looking to believe in people again.

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Beyond ACEs: Working Towards Acceptance

At Center for Child Counseling, we are seriously committed to helping educate the community about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). We offer free trainings through our online learning platform, we work in schools and community centers to bolster the childcare workforce, and we even host expert panels like last month’s “Lead the Fight” virtual panel event which brought together local leaders to discuss the best opportunities for building a more trauma-informed community within specific sectors. We even release this monthly blog post as part of a researched educational series to discuss every aspect of childhood trauma and adversity.

But to focus exclusively on ACEs is to miss the full picture. If childhood adversity has potentially lifelong physical and mental health implications that can be devastating to individuals and communities, then childhood positivity, happiness, enrichment, and learning are bound to have the opposite effect – building lifelong resilience and communities that are strong and thriving.

Positive Childhood Experiences

So, let’s focus on positive childhood experiences for a while, those aspects of childhood that we all look back on with joy and credit with making us the people we are today. Childhood positivity is the antidote to ACEs. If we can build positive childhoods for our children where they feel secure, valued, and understood, we can surely ensure a much brighter planet for everyone.

But where does positivity start? It begins, of course, long before a baby is even born with prenatal care, but really, it begins before that with the good mental health and social support of both parents. Once a baby is born, the first few years of life are especially crucial. Very young infants and children are exposed to very little else besides their immediate parents and caregivers. They interact with the world through these people and the connections and attachment they build within these relationships. So how can we make these first interactions as positive as possible? It all starts with acceptance. In fact, all successful and healthy human relationships include strong components of acceptance. Nobody likes to feel judged. Everybody wants to be seen and known and loved for exactly who they are.

This is, however, easier said than done. Reaching a state of acceptance can sometimes be a lifelong journey. Very few parents end up with their dream child who is everything they imagined, never lets them down, and never puts a foot wrong. How could we expect that from a little, growing human being? Just as we delight in a child’s little triumphs and achievements like their first steps or words, so we inevitably see their little flaws, too – perhaps the first signs of stubbornness or a bad temper. Like all humans, a child is a complex combination of factors, personality traits, quirks, tendencies, and eccentricities. But the beginning of childhood positivity comes when a child feels that they are truly loved and accepted for who they are by the most important people in their lives – their parents, caregivers, and/or siblings.

Let’s look at ways we can work towards acceptance as the foundation of positive childhood experiences.

Focus on Being a Mindful Parent

The key to having a great relationship with your child is to really know them. Being connected to your child and in tune with their feelings helps them feel accepted and valued. Mindful parents bring awareness to interactions with their children, pulling lessons from situations to help the child better understand the world around them. Here are some ways you can show a child you want to know them for who they really are:

  1. Practice Active Listening: Really focus on what your child is saying and the words they choose to use. A lot of communication is non-verbal, so pay attention to gestures and facial expressions, too. Try to look your child in the eye or go down to their level to show they have your full attention. This type of focused listening helps you understand your child better and shows them that their needs matter to you.
  2. Communicate by Reflecting Back: Mirror back what a child tells you. Don’t judge; just repeat back what you hear them saying. For example, “You feel sad and worried because your puppy is sick.” This helps a child identify their emotions and name them. It helps build awareness of their own behaviors and reactions and lets them know you are understanding them.
  3. Help by Labeling Emotions: Often, children lack the vocabulary to name their emotions and so suffer from frustration. Hep you child become aware of different emotions by naming them. You can also connect an emotion with a behavior, so help a child make better choices. For example, “I know you are angry because your face is red and you’re yelling.”
  4. Demonstrate Self-Regulation: The best parents lead by example. They show their children techniques they use to calm down or practice self-control (this is called self-regulation). Maybe you count to ten slowly, or do breathing exercises, or choose to laugh and make a silly joke and laugh to diffuse tension. Your child learns from you.
  5. Show Empathy and Compassion: Showing empathy towards your child when they are upset shows them that you love them despite the situation and demonstrates your acceptance of them despite their behavior. Kindness goes a long way in helping a child feel accepted.

Understand Where Your Child is Developmentally

Sometimes, a parent or caregiver’s frustration with a child stems from a misunderstanding of the ages and stages of child development. For example, you may have heard of the “terrible twos” and even the “terrible threes” when children can be particularly exasperating because of their seeming defiance and love of the word: “No!” You may have found it hard to accept your child’s behavior at this stage, but when you understand that this is the very specific period of development when children are learning to understand their sense of self, it makes more sense that they are testing their autonomy and testing you. Often, understanding where your child is developmentally will help you avoid feeling frustrated with them. In our manual “A Way of Being with Children: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Building Resilience”, we dedicate an entire section to childhood development and a child’s developing brain, so that you can fully understand where your child is at each age.

Examine Yourself and Your Child

There may be a tendency to imagine your child as a reflection of you. For biological moms, this is most natural of all since the baby grew directly inside their body and was a part of them. But it’s valuable to examine how your child is different from you as well as how they are the same. The more you look at the differences your child displays when developing their own fully formed personality, the more you’ll be able to appreciate that they are unique individuals and that they are going to experience their own joys and struggles in life that will have very little to do with your journey. Noticing and appreciating differences is the first step in accepting your child as an individual.

Free Your Child From Your Dreams

Most parents have some preconceived notions about what their child will be like and what they will achieve in life. This is only natural and probably stems from great intentions. Who wouldn’t want a child to achieve great things in their career? Who wouldn’t want their child to experience the independence and excitement of going to college? But the truth is that many of your dreams for your children may not come true. Assumptions you’ve made about the choices they’ll make are likely wrong. College may not be right for your child. They may choose to pursue other interests. This can be particularly painful for parents who have very set ideas for the children, such as taking over a family business or following in the family’s religion. But the secret to maintaining a strong relationship with your child is accepting that they may not always do what you believe to be best for them. They are their own people and, like you, are going to make both good and bad choices in their lives. You cannot save them from bad choices or their consequences. But you can accept them and prepare them. You can only support them, guide them, and give them the best possible foundation for success by teaching them sound judgment and common sense.

Accept Yourself

Many of us come to self-acceptance later in life. As we mature and grow wiser, we realize that life may not turn out exactly as we planned. We may have failed at something very important to us. We may not have fulfilled all our dreams. We slowly learn to feel okay about that and make peace with ourselves. Reaching self-acceptance is a large part of accepting others. When we’re critical of others (in other words judgmental), it’s often because we feel they are demonstrating negative traits or behaviors that we fear we, too, may be prone to. So, when you are being critical of your child, is it most often during times when you feeling bad about yourself? In other words, are you taking out your lack of self-acceptance on your child because you’re trying to protect them from your own flaws and failings that you perhaps see mirrored in them?

If you want to work on building a better relationship with your children, we encourage you to explore our free trainings on a variety of topics relevant to parents and caregivers. We also offer an array of free resources from ways to play more creatively with your children to ways to help children through a crisis or disaster. Our world-class manual on understanding and enjoying children more fully entitled “A Way of Being With Children: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Building Resilience” is available in print format or as a series of online trainings. We know it will help you build the foundation for a more playful, healthful, and hopeful family life.

Sign up now for news, events, and education about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and promoting resilience.

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive emails from: Center for Child Counseling, 8895 N. Military Trail, Palm Beach Gardens, FL, 33410. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email.
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