Expanding our Horizons

Tag: child development

The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences: Managing Emotions and Stress

Linda Chamberlain is the founder of the Alaska Family Violence Prevention Project and an internationally recognized advocate for understanding the effects of domestic violence and adverse childhood experiences on brain development and health. She focuses on creating tools that highlight trauma-informed practices for parents, service providers, and organizations that work with kids and families.

Children develop 85% of their core brain structure in their first five years of life and then continue to build on that core foundation the rest of their lives. The young brain is like a sponge—effortlessly, continuously, and indiscriminately soaking up information. From birth, our undeveloped brains are waiting for experiences to shape them. Our first experiences become the building blocks for our whole lives. Our brains are mirrors to our childhood developmental experiences.

Dr. Chamberlain recognizes the importance of social and emotional skills in academic and life success. The biological sponginess of our brains allows us to acquire so much information before age five, but it also makes youth more vulnerable to trauma than people who are older. Most people perceive youth to be more resilient than adults, but it’s actually the opposite; if anyone is impacted by trauma more severely, it’s the youngest child.

Trauma Tree

The roots represent the prenatal stage of growth and where the tree touches the ground is birth. The trunk is infancy, early childhood is the lower branches, and up to adulthood is the top branches. When trauma occurs, the rest of the tree’s (brain’s) growth beyond that point is negatively affected. As you age, you have more life experiences and knowledge to cope, but also more branches to compensate.

This concept becomes significant when we learn that 95% of kids have adverse childhood experiences. Kids who grow up in domestic violence end up with mental health issues more often than kids who are direct victims of physical abuse. Exposure to violence is a lifetime legacy. While domestic violence and abuse are often tangible and identifiable, there’s an endless range of situations and experiences that are adverse (or less tangible and identifiable).

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The brain of a child, Dr. Chamberlain asserts, will become exactly what the child is exposed to. Children exposed to fighting parents will experience a state a fear, and systems in their brains shut down. Parents who fight in front of their kids are literally changing their children’s brains. Moreover, a baby absorbs her parent’s internal state. A kind parent creates a kind child; a patient parent creates a patient child.

Symptoms of chronic stress or signs of exposure to trauma can range from night terrors to attachment issues. Kids who are labeled as ADHD or defiant may be operating in crisis or survival mode. Trauma and stress are stored in our bodies, reside in our nervous systems, and disconnect the person we are from the body we live in. Trauma also interferes with the development of self-regulatory skills.

The great news is that our brains have the capacity to change, heal, and rewire across our lifespans. A resilient individual isn’t someone who avoids stress but someone who learns how to manage it. Kids can develop competence under adverse circumstances because of strong parent-child relationships as well as the ability to self-regulate attention, emotions, and behaviors. Both resilience and mindfulness are learned skills. Kids can even learn resilience vicariously by watching others overcome adversity.

One simple strategy to teach kids to manage emotions and stress is the Fingerhold Practice. It combines breathing and holding each finger and can be helpful when difficult feelings arise or challenging experiences are anticipated. Holding each finger in turn, gently but firmly, with the other hand and breathing comfortably or slowly can be calming, reduce tension, and provide a sense of control. Many adults feel relief after 2-5 minutes per finger, while kids typically feel relief more quickly (30-60 seconds).

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Routines are the Foundation for Early Childhood Mental Health

By Maegan Lokteff, PhD

Almost everyone likes to have a routine. Some people have an exercise routine, a morning routine, and a work routine. Routines create structure and help guide activities. They provide predictability and security.

For young children, routines provide the foundation for positive early childhood mental health. Routines ensure relationships. For young children, routines need to be facilitated by the adults in their lives. Routines also ensure repetition. Repetition helps babies and toddlers learn to connect their relationships to their experiences of safety and security. Routines play a major role in helping children develop social and emotional skills by providing safe and predictable experiences which allow them to develop and practice social and emotional understanding.

Routines and Self-Control

Routines help young children learn self-control by providing a sense of safety and security. When children feel safe in their day to day activities, they have more freedom to explore, play, and learn.

Routines Reduce Power Struggles

Mother_Scolding_Aspergers_Son-881x499Because they provide children with information about what will happen next, routines can reduce power struggles. Children feel more in control and have a greater sense of security regarding what’s happening to and around them. When children feel in control, they may be more likely to respond positively to requests.

Routines and Safety

bike-helmet-childWhile routines support young children’s sense of security, they can also support the health and safety of a young child. When health and safety practices like washing hands, sitting in a car seat, or wearing a helmet are expected routines, children are more likely to do them. This in turn supports their health, safety, and sense of responsibility.

Routines and Social Skills

Social interactions are a series of routines. As babies grow into toddlers, they learn how to respond to social cues from routines (they know to say hello when someone arrives and goodbye when someone leaves, for example). Social patterns and routines help young children understand turn taking in conversation and activities as well as problem solving with peers.

Routines and Transitions

toddler-tantrum-1024x682Routines can make transitions easier. Routines around transitions, such as bed time or going to day care, help children know what to expect next. This makes them feel secure and makes the change in activity or environment easier to process.

Routines are the foundation for promoting social and emotional health in young children. They offer opportunities for children to build self-confidence, curiosity, social skills, self-control, regulation, and communication skills.

Maegan Lokteff
Grand Beginnings, Executive Director; 970.725.3391; director@grandbeginnings.org

Maegan has spent almost 20 years working with children and families. After earning a BS in Child Development and Family Relations and a BS in Recreation at the University of Idaho, Maegan spent several years working in early care and education programs, after school programs, and summer day camps as both a teacher and administrator. She spent four years as a coordinator and advocate for families experiencing domestic violence. In 2014, Maegan completed her PhD in Family and Human Development with an emphasis in child development and early care and education at Utah State University.

The mission of Grand Beginnings is to promote a child-centered school readiness system that fosters early learning, facilitates healthy child development and promotes family success in Grand County.

More information can be found at Creating Routines for Love and Learning, Zero to Three, 2010.

Limit Toys for Kids

Recent studies have shown that children ages five and under are often overwhelmed with too many toys. Too many options can be over stimulating and make children anxious. Kids can lose the ability to concentrate on one toy long enough to learn from it, and they can feel compelled to play with every toy in sight without fully engaging with each one.

When a nursery school in Germany agreed to remove all of its toys from their classrooms for three months, teachers reported that the children were initially confused but had ultimately begun to concentrate and communicate better and use their imaginations more.

This kind of research was prompted by the prevalent apprehension that parents are too often substituting toys and screens for their children’s development, creating childhoods that are not only defined by prescriptive (or predetermined) play and patterns of consumption but also lacking in meaningful personal interactions.

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With fewer toys in front of them, kids learn to be more creative. They tap into their imaginations and use their surrounding resources to invent games and activities. They also develop longer attention spans by spending more time per toy, letting themselves indulge in the toy and explore its value and possibility. If a particular toy seems too hard to manipulate or solve, kids are less likely to give it up for another toy. They show more patience, perseverance, and determination. And because fewer toys invokes scarcity, kids actually cooperate, share, and get along better.

Toys are an integral part of a child’s development; they shape the child’s character and value system. The kind of toys we give kids and why and how often we give them teach kids about the world, themselves, and our own values. By constantly giving kids more toys, we teach them to rely on material items rather than their own inner resources. We also establish a standard of consumption. Some psychologists argue that everything other than a first transitional object (like a blanket) is a socially generated want.

When toys are removed from the environment, kids will immerse themselves in nature and physical play. They will engage more deeply with their friends and parents, developing better interpersonal relationships. They learn to value what they have and find value in the things around them. They come to understand that happiness is not up to someone or something else to cultivate. Eventually, they might even learn that boredom is a gift.

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Tips to manage toys and play:

  • The optimum number of toys to have out at once is four.
  • Use a “one toy in, one toy out” policy.
  • Keep toys in boxes and rotate them for play.
  • Put old toys out in new combinations.
  • Avoid prescriptive toys that limit fantasy play (“found objects” offer creative potential for free play).
  • Auditory (background noise) and visual clutter can interfere with play.
  • Encourage reading, singing, dancing, coloring, drawing, and painting.
  • Allow children to be bored.

The Five Critical Needs of Children

By Jessica Smolleck, Pyramid Plus Teacher with Grand Beginnings

1) Every person, whether an adult or a child, needs to feel respected.

  • Examine whether you’re treating your children in a positive and respectful way or whether you’re treating them with rudeness by lying to them, demeaning them, or not listening to them. Before you respond to your child, ask yourself: “How would I respond if I was speaking to an adult?”

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2) Children appreciate being made to feel important.

  • Children need to have a sense of value, control, and usefulness. They need to feel that they are somebody. Find a middle ground between being protective and allowing your child to explore the world. Be willing to listen and let them problem solve or make decisions. Let your children take responsibility for some things.

3) All kids desire and need to be accepted for who they are.

  • Children have a right to their own feelings, desires, and ideas and they deserve to be recognized. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree or disagree with everything, it simply means that you acknowledge them. Avoid overreacting, being overly critical, or encouraging kids to suppress their feelings. Instead, listen to them and praise the things you like.

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4) Everyone likes to be included, but children especially need to feel included.

  • Children need to be brought in and made to feel a part of things. They need to feel included in family activities and events. Spend time each day sharing what each person in the family is doing, try to make the kids a part of decisions being made, and find activities that the whole family can do together.

5) Most importantly, children must feel secure.

  • Children need to be in an environment and have relationships that are consistent and caring. They need to know they are loved no matter what and that you have their best interests at heart. Keep this in mind with your interaction with your kids, your discipline, and your relationships with others.
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Unconditional Love

Becoming a Student of My Own Behavior

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Self-reflection, self-improvement

  • Which of my action today were positive in regard to my child/children’s 5 critical needs?
  • Which of my actions today were negative in meeting the five critical needs of my child/children?
  • What does this tell me about myself
  • If I were doing today over again, what would I do differently?
  • What will I change or try to do tomorrow?

 

The Touchpoints Approach: Value Disorganization

TBBT. Berry Brazelton, renowned pediatrician and author, developed the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale. The scale assesses newborns’ physical and neurological responses as well as their emotional well-being and individual differences. Brazelton’s greatest achievement, however, has been to raise awareness for the ways that children’s behavior, activity states, and emotional expressions affect their parents, and the ways that parents’ reactions and behaviors, in turn, affect their children.

At birth, babies are ready to build relationships with parents. Their early emotional experiences are powerful enough to become embedded like architecture in their brains. To capitalize on this, Brazelton created the Touchpoints Approach.

Touchpoints are predictable periods of regression and disorganization that occur before bursts in development. What happens between children and their parents at these times? Often, it’s parental frustration and self-doubt, exacerbated by disruption in family relationships. If parents could be warned about these developmental transitions, Brazelton believed they could better understand their children’s behavior, feel more competent, and react positively.

The most critical step in this approach is accepting that development is not linear. The succession of touchpoints in a child’s development is like a map that can be identified and anticipated by parents and providers. Regression, while natural, can cause disorganization. Parents and providers need to embrace the disorganization and value it is a stepping stone—it’s likely a precursor to success. This perspective can change the way parents react to their child, which, in turn, can change the child’s outcome.

Many families of children with delays or disabilities can feel isolated or unsupported. The Touchpoints Approach reinforces providers’ desire to join parents as allies interested in empathetic, not objective, involvement. The approach presents a paradigm shift. It asks us to move from a linear model of development to a multidimensional one. It asks us to focus on parents’ strengths, acknowledging them as the experts on their children. It asks us to see parenting as an ambivalent process built on trial and error. In this way, providers who work with children and families collaborate rather than prescribe, support rather than fix.

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The Touchpoints Approach is an evidenced-based way of understanding and being with families. Providers join the family’s system of care rather than the family joining the providers’ system of care. The child focuses on learning new skills, the parent focuses on developing competencies, and the provider focuses on supporting parents, developing skills, and overcoming assumptions. Goals are optimal child development, healthy and functional families, competent professionals, and strong communities.

While all children develop at their own pace, these Touchpoints typically precede a burst in development and can cause disorganization for the child and family:

  • The Ideal Baby – Pregnancy  TP book
  • The Real Baby – Newborn
  • The Energy Sink – 3 wks
  • The Rewarding Baby – 6-8 wks
  • Looking Outward – 4 mos
  • Up at Night – 7 mos
  • The Pointer – 9 mos
  • The Walker – 12 mos
  • The Clinger – 15 mos
  • Rebel with a Cause – 18 mos
  • Getting to “No!” – 2 yrs
  • “Why?” – 3 yrs
  • What I Do Matters – 4 yrs
  • Who I Am Matters – 5 yrs
  • Entering the Real World – 6 yrs