New Study: Childhood Trauma Impacts Generations

Sad girl because of family problems.

Childhood trauma resonates through generations. That’s the headline from a new research study conducted at the University of California at Los Angeles and published yesterday in Pediatrics.

This is the first study showing a correlation between parents’ adverse childhood events (ACEs) and their children.

childhood trauma - The Everyday Mom Life

The study findings indicate that children who experience severe childhood trauma and stress are more likely to have behavioral problems as are their children in the future as the trauma reverberates.

“Early-life experiences — stressful or traumatic ones in particular — have intergenerational consequences for child behavior and mental health,” the lead author, Adam Schickedanz, clinical instructor in pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, told ABC News. “This demonstrates one way in which all of us carry our histories with us, which our study shows has implications for our parenting and our children’s health.”

The types of childhood trauma include experiences ranging from:

  • 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
  • Parental mental illness

The study, conducted solely on families in the United States, looked at a sample of families from previous research, specifically parents who had participated in a 2014 Child Development Supplement and 2,529 of their children who had complete data in the 2014 Childhood Retrospective Circumstances Study.

Severity of the behavioral issues was measured on a scale called the Behavior Problems Index, a 28-point rating scale or parent report of child behavior developed by Nicholas Zill and James L. Petersen.

Researchers gave the primary caregivers of children ages 3 to 17-years-old a series of questions to assess current problems that include anxiety, depressions, dependency, hyperactivity and aggression.

A link was found between children with a high rate of behavioral problems and parents who experienced more traumatic childhood occurrences or ACEs.

In fact, the research found that children who suffered four or more adverse events before they were 18were more likely to have children who suffered from behavioral issues such as being hyperactive or trouble regulating their emotions.

About 20 percent of the parents in the study had four or more traumatic experiences as children.

Additionally, researchers found that children were more impacted negatively when it was their mothers that experiences the trauma as children versus their fathers. They noted that the mothers were often the primary caregivers.

Given the study findings and the situation with the immigrant children at the U.S. boarder, ABC News asked Schickedanz if the research may relate to those children.

Schickedanz said the evidence suggests the ACEs “take a toll in large part as a result of toxic stress responses that appear to be universal, since they have been demonstrated across families from diverse backgrounds.”

“Based on the available evidence, one would expect that the stresses and trauma children are experiencing due to family separation at the border will have intergenerational behavioral health consequences,” he stated.

Schickendanz added that the next step is to look at whether grandparents ACEs can be linked to their grandchildren’s behavioral health.

“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 in an interview with Science Daily.

This study focused on behavior resulting from ACEs but other research has shown a connection impacting physical health too.

Read the full abstract here.

For more news and research, click here.


  1. I definitely have seen how friends have passed on their anxiety and other issues to their children – it’s actually sad to see. Trauma is a hard thing to overcome for any age.

  2. It’s amazing how much trauma affects children and their brains! My husband and I have adopted 4 kids with varying degrees of early childhood trauma (including some extremely severe cases) and we have seen firsthand how devastating this can be and how many issues stem from it. The immigrant situation right now is absolutely heartbreaking and I’m praying for a quick resolution as those children will surely be traumatized!

  3. I absolutely agree with this study, I have seen it first hand with some of my closest friends and it’s heartbreaking. I work hard to be the cool aunt to their children to try in any way to lessen the impact.

  4. I have no doubt about this and the results. It’s so sad, but, everything parents do affects their kids, feelings are experienced and often taken on.

  5. I agree 100 percent. My mother suffered from mental illness and it subjected me to sexual abuse with her boyfriend. I’ve tried my best to make sure my kids don’t have to be subject to anything from my childhood, but because of this, they do not have a relationship with their grandmother because it would be too difficult to separate the person from the abuse that was endured for a proper grandparent/grandchild relationship, especially since none of it was ever resolved with therapy or counseling. And because of it, my children don’t get the full-on family many others get. They can’t just call up grandma or spend time with her.

  6. It’s a tough topic to wrap my head around – it just seems so obvious that childhood trauma has long lasting effects. HEre’s hoping we can do better as a nation.

  7. This is such an interesting read. It can certainly be hard when trauma hits, especially for children. It’s so heartbreaking to even think about it.

  8. As someone who has gone through childhood trauma, I know first hand how it can affect your adult life. It is scary how the world changes so fast. So many kids need help.

  9. I cannot agree more with this study. How we are raised as kids and what we see stays with us for life. I had a good deal of childhood trauma!

  10. I have always been interested in psychology and have observed some many instances where this played out before my eyes. I think trauma in anyway is going to stay with you for life and most certainly change the way you parent your children.

  11. There was a similar study done of the descendants of Holocaust survivors that found the same results. Some adverse experiences at a young age affects generations. I am grateful that they are using the information to connect those with greater risk to the support needed.

  12. Such an interesting article.. if rather sad. Unfortunately I think many of us have seen this happen with people we know. At least knowing this helps to identify people who may need extra support…

  13. I believe my childhood is the reason I have such stress as an adult. I think it does tend to impact generations when kids experience trauma as kids because they reflect on it in their everyday walk of life whether knowingly or unknowingly. I know some that it’s turned into helicopter parents.

  14. Wow, i can definitely understand why it impacts generations. Trauma affects relationships and how you deal with situations. Without some type of help the cycle just repeats itself.

  15. It’s interesting to know that this reverberates through generations. I just recently finished a book about children and their behavior and ways in which they learn and it talked about having those ACE’s in their past but didn’t mention anything about the parents having it as a child.

  16. My heart truly goes out to those who have such difficult and traumatic childhoods that repercussions are seen generations down the line. That being said, these are the kinds of studies that make it even harder to parent as every decision is double guessed in case we ruin our children.

  17. Traumatic experiences that people have in their childhood can definitely transfer into their adult lives and their parenting. I have seen it first hand!

  18. This is such a heartbreaking topic, but one that really needs to be looked at in more detail. Trauma can really have an affect on anyone, but so many just assume that a child is too small to remember, when in fact it is just the opposite.

  19. My mother went through some pretty bad things as a child and it totally impacted how she raised her children and same with her mother. It’s nice to see studies backing this knowledge up. I wish it meant we would change things.

  20. As a therapist who’s mainly worked with children with different forms of trauma, I SO appreciate this blog and thank you for sharing it. It’s definitely one I’ll be printing out and sharing with my co-workers and keeping at my desk. It’s so true that trauma is so damaging and harmful is so many areas of one’s life.

  21. It is very sad that so many peoples lives are shaped by experiences in childhood and often the cycle continues in their children’s lives.

  22. It is sad when one has to experience yet alone a child. I know from my childhood I have had some trauma and it still affects me today. It is difficult but great knowing that there are resources out there than can help overcome this.

  23. I was a Psych major in undergrad so I find these studies very fascinating. Parents definitely have to undergo a lot of self-work if they want to avoid passing down their traumas.

  24. Wow, this is so interesting! My parents got divorced when i was very young and i haven’t seen my dad in 14 years but luckily my mom is awesome and growing up without him wasn’t too hard!

  25. I’ve been through some of these and I don’t have the issues that are being described above. I personally think some people can handle and overcome things better than others. Also some people can take a bad situation and let it make them stronger when some might let it control them.


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