Posts Tagged ‘ Childhood Stress ’

Recalibrating What We Mean By “Success” For Our Kids

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

In recent years, the word “success” has been batted around in parenting culture. This series of blog posts considers a number of views of what “success” might mean – and how that influences how we parent.

We often measure success for our kids via static indicators – grades, getting into a “name” college, attaining a high status occupation, and large income. While all of these things are notable outcomes for individuals, they aren’t necessarily what everyone is shooting for. And as such they aren’t necessary to be assumed as the key indicators of success in life and hence the fundamental goals for our children as discussed in Amy Chua’s new book.

It’s worth revisiting Madeline Levine’s book “Teach Your Children Well.” The premise is straightforward. Levine, a clinical psychologist, has seen many a family in which parents and children get caught up in the competitive treadmill that can define the adolescent years in particular. It offers a more balanced viewpoint that encourages children pursuing achievement without getting too caught up in the trap of stacking up a list of accomplishments. It’s a long-term strategy that suggests how parents and children alike should strive for a more developmentally grounded view that supports and encourages healthy practices for the mind and body – which in fact lay a stronger platform for kids to eventually find successes in the personal and professional lives.

Even though we are long past the “Tiger Mom” debates, the reality is that the pressure on many kids – throughout childhood and adolescence – are many and can be intense. “Teach Your Children Well” remains highly relevant even if these topics aren’t as topical as they were a few years ago.

Also in this series:

“The Triple Package”

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Enrichment + Protection = Healthy Development

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Such is a key take-home message from the Early Childhood Summit 2013: Innovation and Opportunity - held in Boston on Friday, April 5th as part of the ongoing celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Boston Children’s Museum.

This meeting brought together leaders from pediatrics, developmental science, public health, the non-profit sector, and top business leaders in the Boston region. The focus was on sharing new ideas about the challenges that some kids and families face, along with possible creative solutions to ensure that kids have early experiences that serve as a platform for healthy and adaptive development. And the idea of thinking about “enrichment” and “protection” as critical components of a child’s rearing environment particularly resonated with me.

This idea was offered by Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, who is the Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. As discussed by Dr. Shonkoff, “enrichment” refers to all the good things parents should be doing in the early years to promote social, emotional, and cognitive development. These are the fundamental building blocks of parenting, including spending lots of time talking to babies and toddlers, being emotionally responsive and engaged, and promoting and supporting curiosity and play. But Dr. Shonkoff emphasized – using the platform of neuroscience research – how critical it is that babies and toddlers also be protected from the toxic effects of excessive stress. Overexposure to harsh rearing environments – including those characterized by overt discord, anger, hostility, and criticism – can take a psychological toll in the early years which can have lasting effects due to the neurodevelopmental sensitivity to extreme stress. Even babies and toddlers can show stress responses that get turned on too much – and don’t shut down quick enough – which predicts a host of problems down the road, both in terms of cognitive and social functioning as well as physical health.

Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, Harvard University

By integrating the concepts of enrichment and protection, we have a framework that simultaneously emphasizes both the good things that parents should be doing lots of, and the bad things that parents shouldn’t do much at all. For those of us who study kids – and in particular track kids from infancy through adulthood – we keep seeing more and more evidence that those early years matter greatly in terms of influencing brain development at a critical period of life. Putting effort into enrichment and providing protection against toxic stress is indeed an equation that predicts healthy development (physical and psychological) from the early years all the way into adulthood.

Photo of Jack P. Shonkoff, MD, addressing the Early Childhood Summit 2013: Innovation and Opportunity meeting (April 5, 2013, Boston, MA) courtesy of Gus Freedman


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