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Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)…Why is Hugging Sooo Very Critical?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Sad Kids

The reality of my own “adverse childhood experiences” is just catching up with me at age 73. My guess is I’m not alone. Not too long ago I took the ACEs test for the very first time, and scored 9/10, not good, terrible really, and sad, very sad. The only reason for not getting the worst ACEs score of 10 was our parents stayed married. From my own life experiences, I don’t know if staying married makes any sense if it damages children with life-long mental health challenges, like me and so many others. But back in the 1950’s, the US Navy was the only source of income for our family. Otherwise, we would have been foster kids, and that could have made things far worse. We will never know.

Steve Sparks 1948…

Healing Kids

It was a very tough start for me as a young child when I contracted Polio at age 2 in 1948. Of course, there are no memories, probably a good thing. But from learning through conversations with my loving and caring siblings, I know that around that time, early in Polio research and before the discovery of a vaccine by Jonas Salk, I was isolated for many weeks in the US Naval Hospital in San Diego, CA. People were scared of Polio back then, so there was little or no hugging or nurturing as a toddler and throughout my childhood.

The unfortunate and emotionally numb state of mind of my mother for all of my childhood must have caused me to feel alone and scared that something was wrong with me…click here. Why did other kids get hugs and not me? What was wrong with me? My siblings were not hugged either, so it seemed that was the way it was in our home. Sadly, our home during the 50s and early 60s before I left home at age 17, was a loveless, chaotic, cold and scary place to be. My father was just getting back on his feet from 4 years fighting during the Pacific War, including surviving Pearl Harbor. Dad was also deployed for 9 months during the Korean War. Both parents suffered from significant mental health challenges from their own ACEs and after the war for the rest of their lives…inadequate treatment.

With much sadness in my heart, hugging and nurturing was not in the mix back then for our US Navy military family. Hugging – 7 Benefits For You And Your Child (Backed By Science)…click here. Add that to the overall profoundly dysfunctional culture in our home following the war, and it is not surprising that an ACEs score of 9/10 would apply to all 5 children in the Sparks home. Every one of us took all the baggage of moral injury into adult life. We decided as a family to end the cycle of intergenerational pain. The true motivation for me in healing is to leave this planet with a smile, peace of mind and a heart full of warm fuzzies.

Hope for Recovery! We are all survivors…

Happy Adult Kids

The good news from all of the truly painful childhood experiences, is that it is never too late to heal and recover. Healing is a life long journey of being exceptionally kind to yourself every day. It is hard, very complicated and painful at times to navigate my own journey of healing. I will say without a doubt, it is worth it! With a strong and loving family support system, great friends, and colleagues, I feel hopeful that peace of mind is now a healthy work in progress. I have also learned from my heightened awareness that with a “whole patient” treatment and recovery strategy, recovery success per the above reference is 86%. There is HOPE!

When you go home and hug your kids tonight, hug them tight, and tell them you love them. Help your little ones grow up so they leave home happy, healthly, confident, loving, and smart.

Best wishes on your own journey of healing!

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Mental Health Advocate




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Great story and such a simple but powerful message. Hugs are healing. I am 70 years old and the effects of my ACEs are coming home to roost. I recently took the test and have at least 6 Aces ,became a heavy drinker,drug user (now 35 years sober) but I had already damaged my mind,body,spirit before I could make a life change at age 35,which took 10 years of dedicated ,therapy,seminars,self help groups,and books. I now have cirrhosis of the liver,liver cancer and am awaiting my second surgery to remove cancer from my liver. Still I lead an active life being a business owner,author,father,husband and advocate for those abused kids that show up in their adult years looking for work.I can spot them a mile away and welcome them to work for me ,them not knowing that they will get more then just a paycheck. Most of these adults don't even know they are affected. 

Thanks for being a voice for those of us in our later years who may still have our struggles as a result of early childhood adversity.  It shows how powerful and long-lasting trauma can be.

One of Advancing Parenting's fifty-three parenting norms bumper stickers reads, “Parents love their children and express that love frequently in little ways.  Hugs, caresses, a smile, a hand on the shoulder can often communicate feelings as effectively as words.” Parenting norms on vehicles will be read 1000s of times, by 1000s of people of all ages, for years to come.  Visit to read about what we do, why we do it, our big plans for the future, and how to order sets of the fifty-three bumper stickers for table/counter displays or to give away at events.



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