Letter: Investing in our children’s development

Dec. 15, 2012 @ 10:18 AM

To the Editor:

The future prosperity of our community, state and nation depends on our ability to foster the health and well-being of the next generation. Innovative states and communities have been able to design high-quality programs for children. These programs have solved problems in early childhood development and shown significant long-term improvements for children.

We now know that the basic architecture of the human brain is constructed through an ongoing process that begins at birth and continues into adulthood.  When you are building a house, you go step by step, beginning with a strong foundation. Just like a house, a strong foundation in children’s early years increases the probability of positive outcomes.

We know how to create a stronger foundation for children’s development. One active ingredient is the “serve and return” relationships that children have with their parents and other caregivers in their family or community. Like the process of serve and return in games such as tennis and volleyball, young children naturally reach out for interaction. When adults respond by mirroring back those interactions in a consistent way, the child’s learning process is complete.

Chronic stressful conditions such as extreme poverty, abuse or severe maternal depression — what scientists now call” toxic stress” — can disrupt this developing brain architecture. We must take steps to minimize children’s exposure to toxic stress and offer help to children in these situations to buffer this stress and make it more manageable.

When we don’t attend to these important aspects of development now, there are serious consequences later. Trying to change behavior or build new skills on a foundation of brain circuits that were not wired properly when they were first formed requires more work and is less effective.

When we invest in the kinds of programs that actually support healthy brain development in children, we will see the results in a more prosperous future.

Garry Daeke