To all the childcare professionals, parents, and the myriads of others who provide care for our youngest members of society. Thank you. I appreciate and understand at least part of what you do. You care.
The fact that you care matters more than anything else you could do. I've spent my entire professional career either physically caring for and/or researching the behavior of very young children so I know that's true.
It's been an enlightening 40+ years to say the least. And exhausting. You probably know what I mean when I say that. Because if you think caring for our youngest is easy, you/re probably not it doing it right.
Everywhere I go people point out the lack of empathy in the world. It's on the news, it's on the streets, it's in the classrooms, and it's alarming. In the adult world it's, domestic violence, hate crimes, unacceptable levels of greed, and wars among other things.
In the world of early childhood it's hitting, biting, bullying, tattling, and excluding that we're concerned about. Bad behavior seems to be running rampant. Why?
Many people believe that poor behavior is caused by "nobody teaching kids right from wrong".
That's partially true because research has shown the effects of neglect on the brain structures of very young children. You can view a short video from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child here.
When kids don't have good role models, they find other role models and they don't always make the best choices.
But not all problem kids are neglected. Some are seriously bullied, shamed and blamed at home and in the care of others.
Some are even taught bias as a way of life.
But there is hope! We're learning through research that it's possible to actually build empathy into the foundation of the brain.
And what we do and say early on has a lifelong effect. We just have to start early enough.
Here's a link to another video from Harvard that shows some of the things we can do early on for the best possible brain outcomes. You're problably doing them already but it's fascinating to see how the positive things we do on a daily basis actually change the brain structure.
So if we can teach empathy early on, isn't it it's just as important, if not more, than stopping blame, bullying bias and other bad behaviors later?
And isn't it obvious that early childhood is the place to start?
Here's what the National Research Council has to say about it:
"It is no surprise that the early childhood years are portrayed as formative. The supporting structures of virtually every system of the human organism from the tiniest cell to the capacity for intimate relationships are constructed during this age period." From Neurons To Neighborhoods, The Science of Early Childhood Development-National Research Council of Medicine (2000)
In light of all this, here is my plan.
No matter how much empathy we show our children, they will still show us problem behavior at times. It's part of growing up. And some kids need more social coaching than others. We need to care enough to show empathy but also to set developmentally appropriate boundaries. in early childhood. Stay in touch here if you're not already in the community!
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Early Childhood Rocks is a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the world through early childhood education
Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! (click on the word) She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.