Severe trauma, stress in parents linked to behavioural health problems in their children

Severe childhood trauma and stress early in parents’ lives are linked to higher rates of behavioral health problems in their own children. This has been revealed in a study in the journal Pediatrics.

Childhood hardships included divorce or separation of parents, death of or estrangement from a parent, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, witnessing violence in the home, exposure to substance abuse in the household or parental mental illness.

“Previous research has looked at childhood trauma as a risk factor for later physical and mental health problems in adulthood, but this is the first research to show that the long-term behavioral health harms of childhood adversity extend across generations from parent to child,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Adam Schickedanz, paediatrician and health services researcher and assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

A mother’s childhood experiences had a stronger correlation to a child’s behavioral health than the father’s experiences

The study showed that the children of parents who themselves had four or more adverse childhood experiences were at double the risk of having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. They were also four time more likely to have mental health problems.

A mother’s childhood experiences had a stronger correlation to a child’s behavioral health than the father’s experiences, the study found.

Parents who lived through adverse childhood experiences were more likely to experience mental health problems, the researchers found. However, these mental health and attitude factors only explained a quarter of the association to their child’s elevated behavioral health risks. Families’ socioeconomic status and education levels were adjusted for in this study.

The research adds to the evidence supporting standardized assessment of parents for adverse childhood experiences during their child’s pediatric health visits.

“If we can identify these children who are at a higher risk, we can connect them to services that might reduce their risk or prevent behavioral health problems,” Schickedanz said.

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