Relationships are Crucial for Kids' Success

At The Urban Child Institute we place great value on data, because it can shape our local agenda, inform strategies, inspire advocacy, and drive action. Ultimately, that is the purpose of this year’s compendium of data and information about the lives of the children of Memphis and Shelby County: Off To A Good Start: Social and Emotional Development of Memphis’ Children.

To succeed, kids need social/emotional AND cognitive skills! Tweet this!

If you care about our children and their future, Off To A Good Start is required reading, because it focuses on the supports and nurturing environments that our children need to thrive and reach their potential.

In previous annual reports, we championed the critical importance of brain development in the first three years of life. This year, we are balancing that approach with another focus that is just as important – the social and emotional development of our children. To be prepared for success in school and throughout life, children must be able to solve problems, to handle stress, and develop positive relationships.

Getting Off To A Good Start Begins at Birth

In other words, just as the first years of life are crucial for brain development, they are equally crucial for the development of emotional and social skills. Indeed, the same stress factors – poverty, maternal depression, domestic violence, poor child care, and deteriorating neighborhoods – that stunt brain development also act as an obstacle to social and emotional development.

Off To A Good Start opens with a sentence that captures its overarching theme: “The first years last a lifetime.” The report’s final paragraph reads: “Many children in Shelby County are at risk of not developing to their full potential. Many face multiples risks … As a community, we have a unique opportunity to consider these risks and the impact that they have for the children of Shelby County. Working together, we can help to strengthen these skills within our youngest children and set them up for lifelong success.”

The five chapters between that opening sentence and closing paragraph provide a blueprint for accomplishing the ultimate goal of ensuring that every child in our community gets a good start in life.

Chapter by chapter, the report lays out the case for why social and emotional development in early childhood must be a priority for our community. It presents statistics that illuminate the current state of our children, describes the obstacles to social and emotional development and the relationships that matter most, discusses the importance of high quality child care, and suggests how people can get involved.

The Gold Standard: Relationships

Put simply, social and emotional development in the first three years of life is an opportunity that cannot be wasted. It lays the foundation for children to be self-confident, curious, friendly, compassionate, and able to express emotions appropriately. The first bricks of this foundation are laid on the day a child is born. In the first three years, the greatest gifts any child can receive are positive and nurturing relationships.

In a word, the emotional and social development of children rests on relationships – between children and their parents, between children and their caregivers, and between children and their extended families. But in Memphis right now, no relationship is more important than the relationship between children and their community.

If we are prepared to recognize and honor that special relationship, we can eventually succeed in giving every child a good start in life.