Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs)

What are they and why are they so important?

In recent years, the concepts of Positive Childhood Experiences (or PCEs), as well as Adverse Childhood Experiences (or ACEs), have garnered significant public attention as more childhood development advocates began talking about the growing body of research linking childhood trauma to negative long-term health effects.

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What are Positive Childhood Experiences (or PCEs)?

Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) stem from safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments, and have the power to prevent or protect children from traumatic events, toxic stress, or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). 

These positive experiences can happen both in and outside the home. Parents, caregivers, relatives, teachers, community members, and neighbors can create environments, experiences, and relationships that allow children to feel protected and cared for.

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What are some examples of Positive Childhood Experiences?


Playtime for children is about much more than having fun. Allowing time for children to freely play within safe environments is a vital part of building healthy, happy brains. When life gets busy or challenging for adults, the importance of play can often be overlooked. Simply remembering that play is a priority each and every day can go a long way toward creating positive experiences for children.

Quality Time and Bonding

Playtime doesn’t have to be for kids only! In fact, when parents and caregivers set aside time to play or talk one-on-one for a few minutes each day, it helps show children they are valued and special. It also strengthens the bond between a child and their caregiver – which is another key component of a healthy childhood.

Recognition, Praise, and Acceptance

One-on-one conversations and playtimes can also serve as an opportunity to recognize a child’s unique characteristics, strengths, and accomplishments. When a child is consistently accepted for who they are and acknowledged for positive achievements such as being kind, brave, or hard-working, the more pride and self-esteem they will feel for themselves.

Predictable, Nurturing Environments

Kids, especially those who are younger, thrive on predictability and the sense of security it provides. This can take on many forms – whether it’s part of their home environment, daily schedules, or the behavior of adults taking care of them. No parent will ever be perfect, but the more adults behave in predictable, nurturing ways that put a child’s needs first, the safer that child will feel.

Practicing gentle, nurturing care can feel particularly difficult when children or caregivers are experiencing big emotions or challenges. However, research shows the way caregivers respond to their children during adversity has a major influence on the parent-child bond as well as the child’s sense of belonging.

Remaining calm through chaotic moments can be one of the best skills a parent or caregiver can work on. This means minimizing shame, yelling, and anger while listening, then helping children label their big emotions instead of trying to stop or ignore them. Just like an adult wouldn’t yell at a friend for being sad, parents should teach their children that it’s normal to be sad, angry, embarrassed, or any other emotion that’s difficult to process. This helps build crucial social-emotional skills that will shape how children experience their lives for years to come.

The Support of Other Adults and Friends

Parents and caregivers cannot do it all when it comes to creating the sort of nurturing, accepting environments that all children deserve. Inevitably, children will interact with other places and people throughout their lives – all of which have the potential to create positive or negative experiences. That’s why it’s important for all adults in a child’s life to take their roles seriously and use the same techniques mentioned above to become a trusted resource for growing children.

Other Protective Factors

According to the CDC, protective factors are “individual or environmental characteristics, conditions, or behaviors that reduce the effects of stressful life events.” When protective factors are present, they increase a child’s ability to avoid risky behavior while promoting social-emotional competence – tools that will help them thrive later in life.

Such protective factors include a child doing well in school, a parent having steady employment, living in a community with access to quality services, and several others. Learn more about the types of protective factors individuals and communities can strive to create here.

Creating Positive Childhood Experiences

While these experiences are all worth striving for while raising children, it’s important to note that no parent or caregiver is perfect. Some days it may feel like utilizing these strategies come naturally, while others don’t go as planned. And that’s okay;  the journey of parenting isn’t linear.

It’s also important to note that this sort of work can be particularly difficult for caregivers who were raised in neglectful, negative, or traumatic households. When a parent or caregiver works to practice parenting in a more positive way than they experienced, this is often referred to as breaking generational cycles of trauma.

Whether a caregiver is breaking generational cycles or adding a more positive and intentional approach to their parenting style, this sort of work has immense potential – for both the adult and the child. Not only will it help forge deeper, meaningful bonds, but it will also help pass down positive patterns that allow future generations an even greater chance to thrive.

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Positive parenting leads to positive futures for generations to come.

American SPCC provides parenting education and support as the most effective way to support families and nurture children. The following resources are made possible through contributions by child and family advocates like you.

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Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs)