Press-Republican

April 8, 2012

Ready, Set, Grow!

Groups focus on childhood development


Press-Republican

---- — The question of whether it is nature or nurture that most influences the type of individual a person grows into has long been debated.

And while both may play a role in human lives, the presence or lack of nurturing relationships in one's life begins shaping their future abilities from day one, according to experts.

While many organizations focus on fixing adult issues that may have emerged from early, unhealthy relationships, such as depression and substance abuse, said Juliette Lynch, parenting enrichment coordinator for the Child Care Coordinating Council of the North Country, her organization is dedicated to preventing them.

Instead of fishing people out of the river, she said, the organization tries to stop them from falling in, which requires providing resources, support and information for parents about the importance of children forming healthy attachments to others long before they enter school.

EARLY RELATIONSHIPS

In fact, Lynch said, a child's ability to succeed in a classroom can be greatly affected by the relationships that that child experiences as an infant.

"Learning is relationship based," she said.

"Social and emotional development is really fundamental for a child to be able to learn anything."

A child's first relationships, she explained, help determine his or her abilities to have self control and positive communication skills, which are necessary for interacting with teachers and peers.

And in order for a child to form healthy attachments with caregivers, those caregivers must be consistent, responsible and resilient, said Ann Fraser, training coordinator and infant-toddler specialist for the Child Care Coordinating Council.

INFANT FEAR

The problem, Fraser said, is that many parents are unaware of the extent to which infants are affected by the people close to them.

In a 2009 national survey of 1,615 parents with children ages zero to 3, 69 percent of respondents were unaware that babies as young as 6 months are able to experience feelings of sadness and fear.

In addition, the survey indicates that two-thirds of the parents did not fully understand that babies are able to sense and react to the moods of their caregivers by the time they are 6 months old. The study was conducted by Hart Research Associates for Zero to Three: the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families.

EDUCATING PARENTS

In an effort to promote awareness of such things as infant fear, the Child Care Council, together with other community health organizations, established the Ready, Set, Grow! Coalition.

The group aims to educate parents about the social and emotional development of children and make them aware that such development begins at birth.

"Part of our mission is to raise parents' awareness and everyone's awareness," Fraser said.

"We try to educate people on the importance of bonding."

RESILIENCY

This year, the coalition is focusing on the theme of resiliency and teaching parents that by building resiliency in themselves, they are better able to model it for their children.

Through resilient families, Fraser said, children learn basic, yet vital tools, such as how to stay calm, share and take turns with others, and be in touch with their feelings.

The effects of having a parent or caregiver who is not resilient, she said, such as one who suffers from chronic depression, can be profound on an infant.

"Strong kids come from strong families," she said.

"Their interest in the world really is based on their relationships."

ASSESSING DEVELOPMENT

To assist parents in raising resilient, well-adjusted offspring, the Child Care Council, which has Family Resource Centers in Plattsburgh, Malone and Tupper Lake, offers social- and emotional-development screenings for children ranging from 1 month old to 5 years old.

Though the council has been offering development screenings for the past two years, it recently began using the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment tool, which, Lynch explained, has been beneficial to parents and their children.

For infants and children under age 2, the Devereux assesses how often in a one-month period the child did such things as enjoy being cuddled, smile at familiar adults, make eye contact with others and respond to his or her name.

In children ages 2 to 5, the assessment looks at factors such as how the child handles frustration, cooperates with others, and shows patience and affection.

Then, based on what the results of the screening indicate, the parents are offered possible solutions and insights into what the child's behavior means.

"We kind of help them figure out how to manage their child and feel more confident," Lynch said.

Parenting tools

In addition to the social- and emotional-development screenings, the Child Care Council provides parenting education, parent-child play groups, Parents Anonymous and other education and support services in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties.

To build on its theme of resiliency, the Ready, Set, Grow! Coalition has organized an evening with Meredith Wiley, co-author of the book "Scared Sick: The Role of Childhood Trauma in Adult Disease" on Wednesday, May 9. The event will take place at the Comfort Inn in Plattsburgh from 5 to 8 p.m., and the cost is $25 to attend.

For more information about the Child Care Coordinating Council of the North Country or the Ready, Set, Grow! Coalition, call 561-4999 or (800) 540-2273 or visit ccccnc.org.

Email Ashleigh Livingston at: alivingston@pressrepublican.com