May 30th, 2022
Two decades of child development research tell us that small kids need two things above all else to get off to the best possible start: nurturing interaction with caregivers and protection from toxic stress. Over the past five years a new wave of neuroscientific studies, highlighting the neurobiological effects of early experience, has strongly pointed toward ways of accomplishing these goals. Such research provides an early peek at what is happening in young children's brains. The studies show that environments and relationships we know benefit development are also associated with higher levels of activation and connectivity in parts of the brain that underpin language and cognitive development.
One of us (Suskind) is a pediatric physician and early-learning researcher who has been tracking the way emerging science on brain development can inform not just what we do as parents but as a society. For instance, paid leave gives parents time to develop nurturing relationships. Child allowances and tax credits can alleviate the poverty known to be detrimental to development. When parents work outside the home, as a considerable majority of American mothers and fathers must, access to quality child care provides young children with responsive, engaged caregivers. (Suskind et. al. 2022)
These social concerns are not going away. As we see mental health issues worsen and increased gun violence against school children and so many more groups, we must take stock in the reality that we are a great and prospering society that has lost its way regarding our youth development and mental health safety nets.
Raising a child takes a village! We have always known this. When are we going to invest in children above wars? Mental health and nutritional health should be at the forefront of political discussion.