The lives of parents and their children are inextricably linked, even more so than one would think, a new study says.

It turns out, traumatic experiences from early in a person's life can affect their own children greatly, particularly the kids' mental health and behavioral issues.

Researchers Study Parents, Children

The study published in the journal Pediatrics reveals that parents who were exposed to four or more adverse childhood experiences have children with twice as likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and four times as likely to have mental health problems.

According to a report from the University of California Los Angeles, adverse childhood experiences are abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction experienced before the age of 18. More specific hardships include divorce or separation of the parents, death or estrangement from parents, violence in the household, exposure to substance abuse, parental mental illness, and emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.

Lead author Dr. Adam Schickedanz, a pediatrician as well as an assistant professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, explains that while previous studies have suggested that childhood trauma potentially increases the risks for health problems in adulthood, this new research is the first to show how the effects of childhood adversity can extend to offspring.

The Results

It turns out that those who had adverse childhood experiences are more likely to display higher levels of aggravation as parents, as well as more likely to have mental health issues. However, this only accounts for about 25 percent of the association to the increased risk to their child's behavioral health. Interestingly, a child is more strongly affected by a mother's stressful experiences than a father's.

However, the researchers are also quick to tell parents not to panic even if they've had a difficult childhood.

"We're not sounding alarm bells," Schickedanz explains. "This simply reinforces what we all know intuitively — that the way we were raised, and our life experiences, affect how we raise our children. The role models we had shape our expectations of parenting."

He says that the researchers are not trying to blame parents for their children's behavioral issues. The study is also not implying that some kids are destined to develop problems.

According to Schickedanz, the health experts are hoping to identify high-risk children to help them access services that will hopefully reduce the risks of behavioral problems in the future.