Positive Early Experiences Pay off for Lifetime

Parents can provide a buffer for their children from the effects of negative early experiences! Tweet this!

Each New Year brings with it feelings of anticipation, excitement, and a renewed hope and commitment for positive change. 2016 is no different. It is an exciting time to be in Memphis, especially for those aware of the tremendous work being conducted in our community to improve the lives of our youngest children.

My work as a professor in the field of Clinical Mental Health Counseling focuses on child cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioral development and related clinical interventions. It is imperative that I am able to teach my students the critical significance of the first three years of life for children’s long-term outcomes. But understanding early social and emotional development is important for everyone—not just parents and caregivers.

Research shows us how early brain development, along with our earliest experiences, affect our health and well-being throughout our entire lives. During the first three years, children’s brains are more active and develop more rapidly than later in life. As a result, experiences and interactions during these earliest years have a profound effect on how our brains organize themselves. As children develop, their early experiences become embedded into the architecture of their brains.

The first three years are a crucial period for social and emotional development. Beginning at birth, a child rapidly develops the capacity to feel and express different emotions. A little later, she will acquire the ability to understand and manage her emotional reactions and impulses. Her social and emotional development is strongly influenced by her home environment and by interactions with her parents and other caregivers.

The social competence and emotional well-being that develop early in life are linked to a child’s later ability to adapt and succeed in school and form meaningful relationships throughout life. Children who experience sensitive and supportive relationships during infancy and early childhood tend to have better academic and social outcomes in school. As adults, their physical health and success in the workforce are strongly related to their early social-emotional development.

On the other hand, children who miss out on the positive early experiences that support healthy social-emotional development are at higher risk for later problems. Outcomes like childhood behavior problems and adult criminal behavior have been linked to deficits in early social and emotional development. Given these facts, early intervention counseling services and programs are critical for families.

Last year I attended Tennessee’s first Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) summit hosted by the Memphis-based ACE Awareness Foundation in partnership with our governor and first lady, Bill and Chrissy Haslam. The goal of the conference was to increase awareness among participating groups—social service agencies, non-profits, businesses, healthcare organizations, and others—of the importance of early experiences for later development.

I recently served as a consultant and staff trainer for the newly formed Memphis-based Universal Parenting Places in their effort to provide evidence-based, free counseling services to all parents in the community. By learning about stress and its influence on early brain development, parents can improve their parenting skills and buffer their children from the effects of negative early experiences. Over time, the program hopes to prevent the transmission of social, emotional and behavior problems from one generation to the next. This is just one example of the many agencies across the city of Memphis working to make positive changes for families in our community.

This New Year let’s make the resolution to continue to spread the word and join the movement. Let’s help to put Memphis on the map for leading the nation in its effort to recognize and promote healthy social and emotional development in our youngest residents. When our children experience healthy social and emotional development, we all benefit.

To learn more, please visit the Urban Child Institute website at the address below.

Dr. Eraina Schauss, Ph.D., LPC-MHSP, NCC is an Assistant Professor in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Program Coordinator for the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Masters Program at the University of Memphis. This is one in a series of monthly guest columns on the importance of public/private investment in early childhood.

This article was originally published by the Commercial Appeal.