Building Brighter Futures: The Impact of Positive Childhood Experiences on Child and Adolescent Mental Health

As mental health providers, you are likely well-acquainted with the detrimental impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on long-term mental and physical health. However, a growing body of research underscores the critical importance of Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) in promoting resilience and fostering mental well-being. Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) are interactions and environments that help children feel safe, supported, and engaged. These experiences can significantly mitigate the negative impacts of ACEs and contribute to a child’s overall sense of well-being and capacity to thrive.

Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) encompass:

  1. Feeling comfortable discussing feelings with family.
  2. Having family support during challenging times.
  3. Participating in community traditions and activities.
  4. Feeling a sense of belonging in high school.
  5. Being supported by friends.
  6. Having at least two non-parent adults who genuinely care.
  7. Feeling safe and protected by an adult at home.

Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) contribute to better mental health outcomes in several key ways:


Enhanced Resilience: PCEs assist children in developing coping skills and fostering a positive self-image, essential components for resilience.

Healthy Relationships

Building Strong Relationships: Supportive relationships with both adults and peers act as a protective barrier against stress and adversity.

Emotional Regulation

Improved Emotional Regulation: Through positive experiences, children learn effective strategies for managing their emotions.

Encouraged Growth

Fostering a Growth Mindset: Encouragement and success in new endeavors instill a belief in personal growth and capability.

A recently published article highlights the significant role of Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) in promoting healthy development and mitigating the adverse effects of negative childhood experiences. This study, the largest population-based assessment of PCE prevalence among U.S. adults to date, offers valuable insights into the distribution of PCEs across different demographics. It reveals significant disparities in PCEs, particularly among racial, ethnic, and sexual minority groups, emphasizing the need for targeted public health interventions.

PCE prevalence differed significantly by race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. The findings are outlined below:

49.2% of non-Hispanic Black or African American respondents reported 6–7 PCEs.
37.7% of non-Hispanic Alaska Native or American Indian respondents reported 6–7 PCEs.
38.9% of Hispanic or Latino respondents reported 6–7 PCEs.
55.2% of non-Hispanic White respondents reported 6–7 PCEs.
38.1% of gay or lesbian respondents reported 6–7 PCEs.
27.4% of bisexual respondents reported 6–7 PCEs.
54.7% of straight respondents reported 6–7 PCEs.

The study analyzed data from four U.S. states and found that approximately half of adults (53.1%) reported experiencing six to seven PCEs, while 12.2% reported two or fewer. The prevalence of PCEs was notably lower among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults and higher among those with greater income and educational attainment. These findings underscore the importance of integrating PCE data collection into public health surveillance to inform strategies that enhance well-being and reduce health disparities.

Public health strategies and interventions that increase PCEs, such as strengthening economic support for families and connecting youth to caring adults and activities, can help reduce PCE inequities. The CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Prevention Resource for Action offers valuable guidance for states and communities in selecting evidence-based strategies with the greatest potential impact to promote PCEs and prevent ACEs. Implementing these strategies can foster healthier environments and contribute to the overall well-being of children and adults alike.

Integrating PCEs into Clinical Practice

As mental health providers, you can play a pivotal role in promoting PCEs. Here are some potential strategies to incorporate into your practice:

  1. Identify and Strengthen Existing PCEs:
    • During assessments, inquire about positive experiences and relationships in a child’s life.
    • Encourage and help families to build on these strengths, such as nurturing existing relationships with caring adults.
  2. Foster Supportive Relationships:
    • Provide parents with strategies to create a safe and nurturing home environment.
    • Connect children with mentorship programs or community resources where they can form supportive relationships with adults.
  3. Promote Community Engagement:
    • Advocate for and help families access community programs that promote participation in traditions and group activities.
    • Work with schools to ensure children feel supported and valued within the educational environment.
  4. Encourage Play and Exploration:
    • Integrate play into therapy sessions to allow children to express themselves and develop coping mechanisms.
    • Educate parents on the importance of play and exploration for their child’s development and encourage them to facilitate these opportunities at home.
  5. Empower Children:
    • Help children set and achieve personal goals, fostering a sense of accomplishment and self-efficacy.
    • Provide opportunities for children to learn new skills in a supportive environment, enhancing their confidence and competence. 

Positive Childhood Experiences are a cornerstone for building resilience and promoting mental well-being in children and adolescents. As mental health providers, your role extends beyond addressing the adverse impacts of ACEs to actively fostering PCEs in the lives of your young clients. By integrating these strategies into your practice, you can help create a foundation for lasting mental health and well-being. Embracing the power of PCEs transforms not only individual lives but also strengthens families and communities, paving the way for a healthier, more resilient future generation.

Additional Resources:

In April, the CDC collaborated with the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Prevent Child Abuse America (PCA), and parent leaders to host a webinar addressing how communities can support families in nurturing bright futures for all children. Emphasizing the collective responsibility in ensuring children’s safety, health, and happiness, the webinar explored actionable steps for parents, youth, community members, and professionals working with children to prevent adversity and foster positive experiences conducive to children’s thriving. Watch the recorded webinar, titled “Thriving and Healthy Kids,” to gain insights and strategies for promoting child well-being.

The CDC Toolkit for Faith, Spiritual, and Religious Communities offers valuable resources for preventing and reducing the negative impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) by fostering positive childhood experiences and connecting youth with caring adults and activities. Faith, spiritual, and religious (FSR) communities can play a significant role in enhancing children’s sense of safety, confidence, and community, thereby mitigating the effects of ACEs. This toolkit equips FSR community members, including leaders, staff, volunteers, and others, with sample messages, images, and resources to promote ACEs prevention efforts, including the Preventing ACEs training. By utilizing and sharing this toolkit, FSR communities can actively contribute to creating healthier, happier childhoods and fostering well-being within their communities.


Bethell, C., Jones, J., Gombojav, N., Linkenbach, J., & Sege, R. (2019). Positive Childhood Experiences and Adult Mental and Relational Health in a Statewide Sample: Associations Across Adverse Childhood Experiences Levels. JAMA pediatrics173(11), e193007.

Sege, R., Swedo, E. A., Burstein, D., et al. (2024). Prevalence of positive childhood experiences among adults — Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, four states, 2015–2021. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 73(17), 399–404.

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  • karen chandler

    Excellent article very informative and helpful as a Marriage and Family Therapist.

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