Parents Who Have Experienced ACEs: Some Tips for Supporting Your Toddler

Parents Who Have Experienced ACEs: Some Tips for Supporting Your Toddler

When your toddler misses a developmental milestone, like taking her first steps by age two, it’s natural to fret. After all, in very rare cases, such delays may be a sign of an underlying condition.

But a recent study suggests that some delays may have a more surprising explanation. Children are more likely to miss developmental milestones by age two if their parents suffered traumatic events during their own childhood, according to researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio.

For each extra ACE experienced by a toddler’s mother, there was an 18% increase in the child’s risk of a missed milestone. For fathers, there was a similar trend. But the good news is that you can work with your provider to reduce or eliminate that risk. Here is what the researchers recommend:

Realize you are not to blame. “If a parent has a high ACE score, it’s important that they know that it’s not their fault — and that healing is possible for them and beneficial for their child,” said study co-author Emily Eismann, MS.

Take care of yourself. If you’re healthy and feeling good, you can better respond to your child in a calm, nurturing way. Eismann recommends getting enough sleep and exercise, eating nutritious food, building a good support network of family and friends, and doing mindfulness techniques like deep breathing when you’re stressed.

Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed. “Reaching out for support – connecting with friends, providers, or other people who have your back”– is an important first step,” says study co-author RJ Gillespie, MD.

Create daily routines kids can count on.Parents can also support their child’s development by helping them to feel physically and emotionally safe,” said Eismann. Everyday routines such as family dinners, throwing a ball and a bedtime story help children feel secure and connected. Joining in school and community celebrations also gives children a strong feeling of belonging.

Spend one-on-one time with your kids. Put away the phone and make eye contact, read together, play board games. If it’s raining, bust some dance moves.

Look into a parenting class. Almost none of us were taught good parenting skills in school, but schools, YMCAs, and other groups now offer parenting classes for adults. If you’d prefer home visits, ask your health provider about a peer parenting coach.

Get screened for ACEs. If you don’t know your ACE score, consider taking the ACEs quiz at your doctor’s office. An ACE score isn’t a diagnosis, but a high score suggests your child could be at higher risk for developmental delays. If so, “earlier intervention is likely more effective,” said study co-author Robert Shapiro.

Consider professional help if you are depressed. According to study leader Alonzo Folger, PhD, therapy for mothers who are depressed is an intervention that shows considerable promise. 


Folger AT, Eismann EA, Stephenson NB, Shapiro RA, Macaluso, M, Brownrigg, ME, and Gillespie, RJ. Parental Adverse Childhood Experiences and Offspring Development at 2 Years of Age. Pediatrics. 2018;141(4):e20172826

Learn the Signs, Act Early. Important Milestones: Your Child By Two Years. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.