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The conversation on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is still new, but researchers and medical professionals are beginning to understand the connection between adverse childhood experiences and adult health problems. Researchers have found a relationship between childhood abuse or family dysfunction and the leading causes of death in adulthood, including cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and lung disease, along with many common health issues like depression, autoimmune diseases, and inflammation. All of this may seem scary, but there is hope for those who have experienced ACEs and are now struggling with their adult health, and there is hope for those who are currently raising children and trying to interrupt any ACEs in their lives.


This YouTube video provides a background to ACEs research.

Here are seven things you should know about ACEs:

 1 | ACEs exist

Many people do not give ACEs credit for causing adult health issues. They say, “We all had a hard childhood.” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” “You just gotta toughen up.” Some of this is true. Researchers have found 64 percent of people report at least a score of one on the ACE Survey. Most of us did experience some kind of trauma or unpredictable chronic stress as children. Some of us had very little and some of us had a lot. These childhood events can have a major effect on us and most children do not have the ability to deal with the chronic stress of ACEs. ACEs do not make a child stronger, they break them down.

Research has shown that people who have experienced ACEs are more likely to suffer from health conditions, participate in harmful behaviors, have relationship problems, and struggle with emotions and handling stress.

Our ability to overcome ACEs depends on our resiliency. Some of us were able to work through our trauma and move forward. Others experienced chronic stress while their brains were developing or held onto the stress, which later manifested itself into autoimmune diseases, depression, fibromyalgia, heart disease, or cancer.

We may not even realize we have experienced ACEs, or what effect they have on our health, our social interactions, and our parenting. Diseases and health conditions can arise for a number of reasons, but having experienced an ACE increases the likelihood. When we develop resiliency, we are better able to overcome our past. Once we recognize our hurt, we can understand our position and work toward healing.

2 | ACEs are scored

Researchers found 10 main areas of chronic, toxic stress that affects children. The survey is available online here. The areas include physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, abandonment, parental drug and alcohol addiction, parental incarceration, parental mental illness, seeing a parent being abused, or needs not being taken care of. Knowing the most important stressors for our children can help us to avoid them as we parent. Knowing our own ACE score can allow us the first step in overcoming our past. When you know your own ACE score, you are better equipped to speak with a medical professional about the impact your childhood is having on your health.

3 | You are not alone

Researchers have found that 64 percent of adults have had at least a score of one on the ACE survey. Of those, 87 percent of those had experienced two or more. The higher the ACE score, the more likely the adult was to have health problems like heart disease, depression, cancer, or autoimmune diseases. Many adults go through life with these illnesses and do not even realize the effect their childhood had on their adult health.

4 | ACEs effected a child’s developing brain

Chronic, unpredictable stress during childhood can cause serious changes to a child or teenager’s developing brain. These biophysical changes can cause inflammation of the brain and health issues as an adult. Damage is done at the cellular level to the developing brain, causing the cells to age and leaving us prone to diseases later in life.

Not only this, but when a young child or teenager is experiencing chronic stress, they are in a constant state of fight-or-flight, releasing the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This causes us to have an unhealthy response to stress hormones when we do experience them. Chronic stress causes us to not be able to regulate our stress hormones, which brings on inflammation. Basically, we are on constant red-alert. This YouTube video shows the effects of chronic stress on the brain.

When stress is healthier for children, they develop the ability to handle stressful situations. When stress is chronic or unpredictable, children are unable to cope effectively with the release of stress hormones. The release of these hormones can actually shrink the developing brain’s hippocampus, further causing trouble for managing stress and processing emotion. What happens to our brains while they are developing is the foundation for the rest of our lives.

5 | We aren’t talking about all stress

There is a difference between the stress that causes an ACE and the regular stress of growing up and it’s important to make the distinction. Chronic, toxic, unpredictable stress includes things like abuse, seeing a loved one being abused, being bullied, not feeling loved, being hurt by loved ones, etc. The regular stress of growing up includes studying for a test, worrying when homework is forgotten, or dealing with the reasonable consequences for not doing chores or talking-back.

Parents should not shield their children from small stressors as they grow. These help the child develop a healthy understanding that the quality of their life depends on their choices, builds character and resilience, and helps them understand how to handle stress hormones effectively. On the other hand, parents do need to be there to protect children from stressors like psychological, physical, or sexual abuse.

6 | This is not about blaming your parents

Many parents parent the way they were raised, or are products of the environment in which they were raised. When our own parents were raised with chronic stress or trauma, it’s hard to expect them to parent any differently. The important part is to give them grace and to use this knowledge to grow yourself and break the generational trauma. Working through your own childhood will help you to overcome your own ACEs and work toward better health and parenting.

7 | ACEs do not define you or your parenting

A high ACE score does not mean you are doomed to be a bad parent or experience health problems. Just as we can heal a pulled muscle, we can also heal a traumatized brain. Taking steps to recognize past hurt and work through the pain can work wonders on our health. This along with a healthy diet, exercise, and medical and therapeutic help can help us overcome our ACEs. We are able to overcome our past hurts and not pass those along to our children. By allowing them to experience an appropriate amount of good stress, consulting with them and walking them through hardships, providing love, empathy, and loving limits, we can stop the generational spread of ACEs and protect our children’s developing brains.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Mamas have a hard time carving out time for themselves. Our families almost always take priority, meaning things like skincare can easily fall by the wayside. Even though studies have shown the benefits of caring for ourselves also benefit our babies benefit our babies, it often feels just one more task to add to our to-do list.

Fortunately, it's possible to skip extensive routines and start small. If you have just five minutes (or more!) to spare for yourself this week, try these self-care products you can sneak during nap time or after you finally get the little ones down for the night.

If you only have 5 minutes: Remove your makeup

One of the most important ways to care for your skin at the end of the day is removing your makeup. Start with a cleansing towelette to easily wipe away even stubborn mascara and eyeliner so you can go to bed with a clean slate.

Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes, Amazon, 2-pk $8.97

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If you have 10 minutes (or more): Use a jade facial roller

After cleansing, use this jade roller to gently massage your face to boost collagen, flush out toxins and improve circulation in your skin.

Jade Facial Roller, Amazon, $11.99

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Chrissy Teigen has been very open about the ways pregnancy has changed her body. Mom to 2-year-old Luna and 4-month-old Miles, Teigen—a former swimsuit model—has famously embraced her postpartum body (stretchies and all), while noting that she's still, at times, insecure about it, but she's not ashamed.

That's why, when a man on Twitter commented on a photo of Teigen's red carpet look for the Emmy's to ask the whole wide world (and Teigen herself, he tagged her) if she was pregnant again, Teigen was quick to shut down the shamer.

"I'm asking this with the utmost respectful [sic], but is @chrissyteigen pregnant again?" The man wrote.

"I just had a baby but thank you for being soooo respectful," Teigen replied (from the Emmys).


Fellow moms were quick to jump to Teigen's defense. Many pointed out that Teigen actually looks incredible for any human, let alone one who is four months postpartum. Other mamas were quick to chime in with stories about their own lingering baby bumps.

For a lot of women, our bodies are different after having a baby. Sometimes that means we're a little rounder in the middle than we used to be. It happens to almost everyone, even red carpet-walking A-listers, like Teigen and actress Jennifer Garner, who once told Ellen Degeneres that she would have a bump forever.

"I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump," Garner explained in 2014, after paparazzi photographs fueled speculation that she and Ben Affleck were expecting a fourth child. "Forever and ever, not another baby. Just a bump like a camel. But just in reverse," Garner jokes.

Like Garner, Teigen dealt with the pregnancy question with a sense of humor, but she shouldn't have had to defend her body from the Emmys. As many, many Twitter users pointed out to the man who asked, it's never cool to ask a woman if she is pregnant.

It's not polite to ask, and it's no one's business whether a woman's bump is a pregnancy, some fabric, a burrito, a weird shadow or (as in Teigen's case) basically a figment of someone's imagination.

A lot of mamas online last night chimed in to say that while Teigen's stomach doesn't look like it did in her Sports Illustrated days, it still looks pretty freaking amazing.

Yes, after two kids, Chrissy Teigen doesn't look like a swimsuit model. But she shouldn't have to. She's not a swimsuit model anymore. She is a cookbook author with her own Target line and she hosts a hilarious TV show. She's also a mother. She is so much more than her midsection.

"Honestly, I don't ever have to be in a swimsuit again," she recently told Women's Health. "Since I was 20 years old, I had this weight in my mind that I am, or that I'm supposed to be. I've been so used to that number for 10 years now. And then I started realizing it was a swimsuit-model weight. There's a very big difference between wanting to be that kind of fit and wanting to be happy-fit."

Teigen is happy with her body, and we're happy she spent Emmy night educating the internet about respecting women.

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As parents, we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make sure our babies' brains are developing as quickly as possible. But the irony is, for many years the best way our little ones can learn and grow is through play. In fact, research has shown that reading stories, playing simple games, and engaging with toys is one of the best ways to boost baby's brain development for years to come.

It's those kind of findings that fuels the work at People Toy Company, a Japanese-based toy company that believes in encouraging the natural development of children through research-backed toys. Every toy in their line is developed to make playtime engaging for parents and children alike while helping little ones achieve developmental milestones through play.

Here are 10 of our favorite toys for engaging little minds and encouraging motor development from baby's first weeks and beyond.

TOYS TO STIMULATE LITTLE BRAINS BEFORE 6 MONTHS

1. Mochi Double Pendant Necklace (newborn on)

It's a fact of life that babies love to explore their world with their mouths. Save your jewelry by swapping in this teething necklace made from rice. Babies will love the easy-to-hold shape and textured design—you'll love the neutral color palette that goes with any outfit.

Mochi Double Pendant Necklace, Amazon, $15.99

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TOYS TO STIMULATE LITTLE BRAINS AFTER 6 MONTHS

1. Magic Reflection Ball (6 month)

Encourage independent play from six months on with this constantly changing reflection ball. Use the suction cup to attach it to different smooth surfaces to encourage pulling up and standing later on.

People Magic Reflection Ball, Amazon, $8.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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