Guest column: Every act of kindness brings strength to the life of a child

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October has been proclaimed Children’s Resilience Month in Walla Walla! In making its proclamation, the Walla Walla City Council is acknowledging and honoring the important work of the Children’s Resilience Initiative, a local grass roots group many know as CRI.

 Why is the work of CRI important to every person in our Valley? It’s simple — CRI helps individuals identify adverse childhood experiences (forming the easy to remember acronym ACEs) that might have affected their ability to cope and lead happy and successful lives.

ACEs (such maltreatment or abuse or serious family issues involving abuse of alcohol and drugs) affect our community on a daily basis. CRI strives to limit the amount of ACEs a child has to endure through parental education, raising awareness of the risks to the health of those who suffer ACEs and teaching resilience techniques to those that have been impacted by earlier, negative childhood experiences.

CRI has studied and understand what these traumas can do to a child’s developing brain during the 25-plus years it takes to fully mature.  

What makes this so critical to our community?

Because we know any significant stress or trauma during this developmental period deeply affects and changes how the brain functions, it can put people at risk by impacting their stability and sound thinking as well as influence their ability to exercise good judgment.

In addition, if the “architecture” of the brain is affected, negative health outcomes (from heart disease to mental health problems) may also occur later in life.

Most exciting for CRI, however, is that this pathway of possible negative outcomes can be changed by early awareness and interventions that CRI teaches!  

What is predictable is preventable.

Parenting skills are another important aspect in our community efforts. Since we all typically parent according to the style modeled by our own parents, it is important to become aware of the inherited style and become intentional in the lessons we would like to pass along. Teaching new styles of parenting is one of the ways CRI supports families in Walla Walla.  

Although none of us control the family we are born into, we can control our parenting decisions and how we care for our children, especially when we understand how our own brains have been wired and shaped by our childhood experiences. We can stop passing negative experiences on to our children.

So what’s the bottom line?  

Get familiar with the ACEs study and what it tells us about the patterns that have shaped us as adults (cdc.gov/ace/ & resiliencetrumpsaces.org). Get familiar with the power of resilience — bouncing back from adversity — and how we can all help create resilience in our community.

The newest research tells us an amazing fact: Nurturance — caring for each other and expressing that caring attitude — can actually repair and restore brain health.

 CRI teaches ways that help children learn to be more resilient by developing characteristics that will shape their lives in very positive ways. Everyone can be more nurturing in how we talk and interact with each other.

 Isn’t it amazing that nurturance can help our incredible brains be better connected and less prone to illness? CRI thinks so!

In celebration of Children’s Resilience Month, please pass along an intentional act of nurturing. Send a card to a friend, pick up the phone and tell someone you love them, do not wait to hug a child and tell them how special they are. Pass on resilience to a stranger, a neighbor, a child or your favorite person.

Remember, every act of kindness can bring strength into another’s life. That is awesome! October is Children’s Resilience Month, pass it on!

Teri Barila can be reached at teri.barila@wwcc.edu. CRI is led by Barila of the Community Networks (Family Policy Council) and Mark Brown, executive director of Friends of Children of Walla Walla.

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