What if the attributes of personality most responsible for academic initiative develop between birth and the age of two years? What if the confidence, courage and curiosity of children are the direct outcome of parental nurturing during the first two years of life? The implications for educators would be enormous.
In his book Why Children Succeed author Paul Tough presents a number of findings that seem to suggest that children become intrepid toddlers in direct proportion to the frequency and intensity of parental nurturing in the two years immediately following birth. Children who want for attentive nurturing during infancy, conversely, tend to be more fearful and unsure of themselves.
The former are more inclined to persevere when challenged; the latter more inclined to surrender when faced with adversity. The former seek to explore; the latter tend toward tentativeness.
For early childhood educators, compensating for this reality represents one more high hurdle to clear in meeting the needs of every child. As someone quite eloquently posted on Facebook recently, “We must cope with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs before we can hope to address Bloom’s taxonomy of learning.”
Initiating children into age-appropriate educational settings at an earlier age is a categorical imperative if remediation falls, as of course it will, to classroom educators. Determining what interventions will ensure that all children begin schooling on an level playing field will be no small task. For too long we have been worried that schools are leaving children behind when in reality too many children arrive at school wearing the intellectual shackles of their socio-economic circumstance.
We must attempt to eradicate the erroneous concept – still held as certain, by some – that not much is happening in the mind of an infant. We now know that infants are actively engaged in figuring out their place in the world almost from the moment they are born, if not before. Rudiments of the ambient language appear in the babbling of infants at three months of age provided that speech samples and face time are ample.
Infants develop confidence in direct proportion to their perceived importance to the adult caregivers in their lives. Near-constant mental stimulation from birth to two years lays the foundation for the habits of mind to follow; training and encouragement furnish confidence and willingness to fail and overcome challenges. These traits are essential to future academic success, and they likely emerge at much earlier stages of development than previously believed.
Perhaps it is time for a series of public service announcements targeting young parents regarding the importance of active parenting for brain stimulation in those first critical years. Surely, the medical, religious and education communities could put together adult education programs that teach the foundational nurturing behaviors that infants require to travel the road to self actualization.
Some might interpret this as an intrusion into the private lives of parents. Still, the founder of the Children’s Defense League, Marion Wright Edelman, asserts that “… protecting today’s children, tomorrow’s Mandela or Mother Theresa, is the moral and common sense litmus test of our humanity…”
[The original commentary appeared in the now defunct Prince George’s Gazette on 10/28/2014. It has been slightly revised.]