Character Development in Young Children Matters

In his article titled “The Character Factory”, David Brooks reminds us that character and behavior (e.g., resilience, conscientiousness, prudence, perseverance, ability to delay gratification, having a growth-mindset, personal drive, self-control, ability to maintain focus and attention, etc.) influence academic achievement as much as cognitive skills do. He tells us that “sages over years have generally found at least four effective avenues to make it easier to climb.” He delineates them as follows:

First, habits. If you can change behavior you eventually change disposition. People who practice small acts of self-control find it easier to perform big acts in times of crisis. Quality preschools, K.I.P.P. schools and parenting coaches have produced lasting effects by encouraging young parents and students to observe basic etiquette and practice small but regular acts of self-restraint.

Second, opportunity. Maybe you can practice self-discipline through iron willpower. But most of us can only deny short-term pleasures because we see a realistic path between self-denial now and something better down the road. Young women who see affordable college prospects ahead are much less likely to become teen moms.

Third, exemplars. Character is not developed individually. It is instilled by communities and transmitted by elders. The centrist Democratic group Third Way suggests the government create a BoomerCorps. Every day 10,000 baby boomers turn 65, some of them could be recruited into an AmeriCorps-type program to help low-income families move up the mobility ladder.

Fourth, standards. People can only practice restraint after they have a certain definition of the sort of person they want to be. Research from Martin West of Harvard and others suggests that students at certain charter schools raise their own expectations for themselves, and judge themselves by more demanding criteria.

What Brooks does not emphasize in his article is that the best way to get to the character development and necessary behaviors for academic achievement and societal mobility is via language and social-emotional modeling. He lightly brushes broad strokes on a canvas, telling us that quality preschools, K.I.P.P. schools, parenting coaches and exemplars for children make a difference in children and families with regards to increasing upward mobility and realizing dreams. However, he doesn’t tell us about the details of how and why these programs or ideas work. Unless children, families and communities get what the those in the top income quintile already get (e.g., top-notch exposure to the language, social, emotional and sensory stimulation, excellent role models, amazing mentors, etc.), they will continue to flounder or move at a glacial pace toward change for the better.

In the U.S., experts do a great job giving broad advice. Doctors tell us to eat a healthy diet. Educators tell us to read and talk to our children right from the start. The media, presenting us with evidence from research, tells us what needs to happen for this, that or the other thing to happen. But, rarely do we get specific details about what one needs to do consistently and across time to be successful and to make for real and permanent change.

I agree with Mr. Brooks whole-heartedly that success in life has to be about helping children and adults learn the character and behavior skills proven to lead to success in life in terms of being happy, self-motivated and self-sufficient, and a good citizen, amongst other revelations of success. But what the next 1 or 2 generations of children, families and communities from the bottom quintile of society need is specific, detailed, carefully taught advice that is then monitored and encouraged by those who know, specifically, what it takes to succeed and who have achieved success themselves.

I can’t use words such as “specific” or “specifically” enough on this matter. The bland advice parents, families and communities have received is clearly not working. It’s time to get to the nitty-gritty of what leads to success.

In Pitching Veggies to Kids, Less Is More

Matt Richtel, NY Times writer of the above-titled article, tells of research that goes along with the video I have attached here (The video is Halloween-themed, but fits perfectly here nonetheless.). In the article, he writes “One of the fiercest marketing battles in the world takes place in kitchens and at dining room tables across the world. The sellers are parents, trying everything to persuade their children to eat their vegetables.”

Richtel goes on to share new research which shows why parents — and food marketers — are barking up the wrong tree by trying to convince young children that food is “yummy,” “healthy,” or “good for you.” Apparently, kids are on to those of us who are trying to teach lessons around food. The problem, Richtel states, is the pitch: It is too aggressive, even at its most well-meaning and heartfelt. The best way to pitch food to children, the research finds, is to present it with no marketing message whatsoever. According to Ayelet Fishbach, a professor of behavioral science and marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the research paper’s co-author, “You just need to give them the food. You mess them up by giving all kinds of messages.”

Richtel paints a broader picture when he tells us that the paper, to be published in October in the Journal of Consumer Research, offers insight not only into kids’ decision-making around food, but also “into the powerful and counterintuitive ways that overzealous marketing can misfire.” In the research, young children who received no information or “marketing” about eating Wheat Thins or carrots ate more than the children who heard that the foods were healthy or yummy.

Why was no message the best message, Richtel asks? He and researchers offers the following possibilities: 1) the “dilution effect” — the watering down of a marketing message that makes too many claims, and 2) if children think food is good for them, it can’t also taste good.

Then Richtel asks, “So what to do?” He ends his article by writing “Let children make their own decision with a major caveat: Choose what food to put in front of them. Don’t pitch, but also: ‘Don’t let them do the shopping,’ Professor Fishbach said.”

This research is a fine example of what I’ve written about so many times in my blog: teaching babies, toddlers and young children to make good choices, whether they be choices in nutrition/diet, communication/language, or social-emotional skills, requires that parents’ and caregivers’ actions speak louder than their words. Want respectful kids who are good listeners? Show them from the day they are born what it looks like to be kind, respectful and a good listener. Desire healthy and strong kids? Eat a balanced, nutritious diet and exercise regularly in front of a child from the moment Baby comes home from the hospital. Desire emotionally intelligent children who understand others’ emotions and manage their own emotions well? Be the most emotionally intelligent parent or caregiver you can be with family, friends, neighbors, community members and colleagues every day of your life.

The most important point is that children are learning from us right from the start. The children in one experiment in the new research were 4 and 5 years old. By this young age, children made choices to eat (or not eat) healthy snacks more often when there wasn’t “preaching” about why they should do so. It seemed like a good enough idea to them on their own. They saw right through adults trying to convince them to do one thing or another (I am reminded here of times I’ve seen parents try to convince or sell their child on the idea of saying “I’m sorry” when the child clearly doesn’t want to or won’t say it.). Children by 4 or 5 don’t just learn to make behavioral choices overnight based on what seems like reasonable, smart or wise behavior in others. They won’t do well in school or behave a certain way just because adults tell them so. Children won’t be convinced of much, even when given the aggressive, hard sell. What it takes is the grown-ups around them, during the first 3 years of their lives, indirectly teaching and demonstrating what they need to know by the age of 4 or 5. For babies and toddlers, there is no more powerful learning experience than observation during those first 3 years to truly prepare children for school and life.

10-Month Old Baby Understands Emotional Tone of Song Sung By Mom

Anyone who thinks that babies under 12 months of age don’t understand much about their world should think again. Babies might not be able to tell us with words what they know and understand, but they can certainly tell us with their faces, their emotions and their body movements. Babies are amazing sponges and imitators. The baby in the video is living proof of someone perfectly capable of absorbing his mother’s emotion and expressing a like emotion that he hears in her voice while she sang.

The baby is perfectly able to feel emotion and to feel moved by someone else’s words and music. My guess is he will store away the experience of feeling saddened by a song and use the learning experience somehow and in some way later in his young life. Who knows? Perhaps when he is older he will be drawn to and appreciate sad country songs later in life, and not really know why!

When watching the video, I couldn’t help thinking of the high school students I work with at an alternative DC high school who have significant emotional disturbance and behavioral problems. What emotional experiences (e.g, anger, frustration, sadness, fear, happiness, etc.) did these students observe in others faces’ or body movements when they were 12 months of age or younger? What emotions did they hear expressed in the voices around them? Were there mostly positive or negative emotions and voices in their environment?

For Babies and Toddlers, It’s About Being Creative

For Babies and Toddlers, It’s About Being Creative

As follow-up to my last post regarding allowing young children shine their lantern of consciousness on their world, rather than medicating them into submission and dullness, I found the above-linked March 21, 2014 article lingering on my iPhone, just waiting to be shared with those who work with and raise children.

Timothy Egan, contributing op-ed writer for the NY Times, writes in his article Creativity vs. Quants about the value of creativity.  Creativity is one of those skills, as he writes, that “eludes the captors of knowledge, even though colleges are trying to teach it, corporations are trying to own it, and Apple has a “creativity app.”  He points out that “perhaps because creativity remains so unquantifiable, it’s still getting shortchanged by educators,” which results in the compression of “the sum of education for an average American 17-year-old into the bloodless numbers of standardized test scores.”  He reveals that there is pushback “from people who feel that music, art and other unmeasured values got left behind — that the Common Core stifles creativity” and that “educators teach for the test, but not for the messy brains of the kids in the back rows.”  According to Egan, colleges and employers complain that high schools are turning out too many graduates unprepared for the modern world, and he suggests that it’s because of the focus on test scores and numbers rather than on what kids really need to be successful in the world.

As parents, caregivers or educators of children ages birth to 3 years old (and even older!), it’s important to keep in mind that early childhood is not about quantifying, crunching the data of benchmarks and standards, precise calculations about hours spent reading to or limiting the screen time of young children.  Early childhood is about kids experiencing creativity, aha moments, messiness and magic.  It’s about serendipity, where babies and toddlers discover their world through the the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy and beneficial way, which cannot be measured or quantified. In my experience, the successful brain development that happens for babies and toddlers, who go on to become successful in school as well as in life, comes from “time off, and time out,” just as Egan tells us the amazing bouts of creativity came to people like John Lennon, Steve Jobs and Oscar Wilde.  Egan writes:

John Lennon wrote “Nowhere Man,” as he recalled it in an interview that ran just before he was murdered in 1980: After working five hours trying to craft a song, he had nothing to show for it. “Then, ‘Nowhere Man’ came, words and music, the whole damn thing as I lay down.”

 Here’s how Steve Jobs came up with the groundbreaking font selection when Apple designed the Mac: He had taken a class in the lost art of calligraphy and found it “beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture.” Ten years later, it paid off when Apple ushered in a typeface renaissance.

 And here’s how Oscar Wilde defined his profession: “A writer is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave.”

Egan also writes about the success of Amazon.com as a company “trying to crowd source and metrically mold its way into producing its own ‘content’ by gathering data on millions of readers and then giving the same thing back to them.”  But, he tells us that Amazon.com’s method of quantifying what people want does not make for success in creating content.  He says:

At Amazon, the quants rule. Daydreaming, pie-in-the-sky time and giving people room to fail — the vital ingredients of creativity — are costly, the first things to go at a data-driven company. As a business model, Amazon is a huge success. As a regular generator of culture-altering material, it’s a bit player. Why? It has marginalized messiness.

I hear Egan speaking directly to me as a mother and speech therapist working with children.  He reminds me that each child is more like a great work of art or music, the orphaned oddball story that becomes a publishing world smash, or the little film everyone rejected because, well, it wasn’t like anything else, than he or she is a bundle of data that can be quantified. Egan writes nothing of childhood, but, for me, he paints a picture of what early childhood should look like:  full of adventuring in one’s mind, exploring the limits of one’s mind and world, pushing oneself to learn as much as can be learned in the waking hours of the day.  And, then, it’s time for a bed!

 

Young Children Are Diagnosed With ADHD-type Symptoms, When Behaviors Are Actually Typical

Young Children Are Diagnosed With ADHD-type Symptoms, When Behaviors Are Actually Typical

KJ Dell’Antonia’s May 16 post for Motherlode, the NY Times parenting blog, revealed the fact that “about 15,000 American toddlers 2 or 3 years old, many on Medicaid, are being medicated for attention deficit disorder, according to data presented by an official at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”  She told us that Alan Schwarz reported that “toddlers from low-income families are disproportionately represented among those medicated.”  Dell’Antonio goes on to draw the following “inescapable” conclusion:  Families that can afford alternatives to medicating toddlers (such as evidence-based therapeutic alternatives) have access to those alternatives in far greater numbers than families that cannot.  

Two- to Three-year olds are talkative, impulsive, loud, extremely active children who are poor listeners when it comes to instructions and prompts to sit still or “listen.”  They are just about the busiest crew you will ever find in terms of shining their lanterns of consciousness on everything they see, hear, touch, taste and smell.  They soak up the world with reckless abandon, as they should.  These behaviors are 100% developmentally appropriate and are necessary for toddlers to learn what they need to learn in a short amount of time in order to be ready for school at age 3, 4 or 5.  They seem almost unconsciously aware of the fact that preschool, Pre-K or kindergarten is around their developmental corner, which causes them to want to gather the language, social, emotional and sensory experiences they will need to succeed in school.  To be sure, these behaviors are not symptoms of ADHD in toddlers.

Both Dell-Antonio and Schwarz, who wrote the NY Times article titled Thousands of Toddlers Are Medicated for ADHD, Report Finds, Raising Worries on May 16, point out that there can be, of course, legitimate diagnoses of ADHD in toddlers who are having significant problems managing their behavior and impulsivity in order to learn successfully.  However, what was found to be most concerning by them as well as other professionals was that toddlers covered by Medicaid were medicated for the disorder far more often than those covered by private insurance.  Schwarz wrote in his article, “Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a child psychiatrist and director of school-based programs at Cambridge Health Alliance outside Boston who specializes in underprivileged youth, said that some home environments can lead to behavior often mistaken for A.D.H.D., particularly in the youngest children.”  Rappaport also said:

“In acting out and being hard to control, they’re signaling the chaos in their environment. Of course only some homes are like this — but if you have a family with domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, or a parent neglecting a 2-year-old, the kid might look impulsive or aggressive. And the parent might just want a quick fix, and the easiest thing to do is medicate. It’s a travesty.”

In my opinion, Dell’Antonio summed up my experiences with the inner-city middle- and high-school students with whom I work when she ended her blog post saying:

It’s not hard to see what may lead a parent and a doctor to choose to medicate a toddler’s ADHD-like behaviors under those circumstances. What is difficult is addressing the vast set of inequalities that underlies this particular example of the increasingly large gap between the childhoods of low-income children and those of children whose circumstances are more fortunate. For now, we’re left with one of the ironies of income inequality: a rare instance of poor children getting more of something than they need.

Amazing, positive early language, social, emotional and sensory experiences, not medication, is the answer for closing the achievement gap between poor and low-income children and the rest of the children in our country.  Parent and caregiver training should be of the highest priority in the United States since they are the ones who are around infants and toddlers most and who will have the greatest longterm impact on the development of a child.  Every parent and caregiver of poor and low-income children need to know the basics of giving babies and toddlers the language, social, emotional and sensory experiences they need, and then we need to check in on these parents and caregivers weekly to be sure that the right “stuff” is being given to children.

But, how do we know just what these parents need in order to help their children develop as well as children from middle- and high-income families?  Policies, educational or care standards, mountains of data, academic research, newspaper articles and blog posts, and laws are important to have in place in order to fix a problem, but these don’t really offer deep understanding of the problems that poor babies and toddlers and their families encounter daily.  For deep understanding and true problem solving, we need to ask parents, caregivers and families what they actually need to improve their young children’s lives.  

David Brooks, in his May 15 op-ed column in the NY Times titled “Stairway to Wisdom,” explained that in order to truly understand a social problem in depth (and, I say, to then find solutions to the problem), we must go beyond data, academic research and journalism.  He stated that in order to achieve a “rich, humane” understanding of a problem, we need intimacy.  Brooks informed us that as Augustine, an early Christian theologian and philosopher, aged, he “came to reject those who thought they could understand others from a detached objective stance.”  Brooks told us that Augustine:

“came to believe that it take selfless love to truly know another person. Love is a form of knowing and being known. Affection motivates you to want to see everything about another. Empathy opens you up to absorb the good and the bad. Love impels you not just to observe, but to seek union — to think as another thinks and feel as another feels.”

Brooks so beautifully ended his article saying:

There is a tendency now, especially for those of us in the more affluent classes, to want to use education to make life more predictable, to seek control as the essential good, to emphasize data that masks the remorseless unpredictability of individual lives. But people engaged in direct contact with problems like teenage pregnancy are cured of those linear illusions. Those of us who work with data and for newspapers probably should be continually reminding ourselves to bow down before the knowledge of participation, to defer to the highest form of understanding, which is held by those who walk alongside others every day, who know the first names, who know the smells and fears.

I say we shoot for all families having alternatives to medication in their parenting “pockets.”  Babies and toddlers needs are simple, but their needs simply cannot be met by those who do not understand what is needed.  Until all who are involved with babies and toddlers have a deep and intimate understanding of what early childhood development should look like, there will forever be an achievement gap between the rich and poor.

 

ZERO TO THREE Baby Policy Blog Post: Closing the Quality Gap in Infant-Toddler Care

ZERO TO THREE Baby Policy Blog Post: Closing the Quality Gap in Infant-Toddler Care

I wanted to share the ZERO TO THREE blog post for those of you interested in the world of babies and toddlers as well as for those of you who work with older children and students who are clearly victims of the quality gap.  Babies and toddlers are fun and cute to work with and care about, but the reality is that babies and toddlers who didn’t get the right language, social, emotional or sensory exposure become less “fun and cute” school-aged children and adolescents who struggle in school and in life.

Just in my last week alone as a speech-language pathologist working with 12-18 year olds in DC Schools, I have observed countless moments of children whose early life and educational experiences obviously paled in comparison to my kids’ experiences and the experiences of most other children I know.  Some of the students with whom I worked this week, who attend either a charter school or an alternative high school in DC, didn’t know the name of the first president of the United States.  Some had never heard of cantaloupe, blueberries, celery, or cheddar cheese.  Some were unable to label my facial expressions as “upset” or “frustrated” (These students are on a special education caseload, but are not on the autism spectrum, which might prevent them from being aware of others’ emotions or labeling facial expressions.).  Still others couldn’t produce pronouns, third person plural verbs, or past tense verbs, which, in turn, affected their ability to read them in print.  Some, sadly, didn’t believe me when I insisted that they attend their speech-language therapy session because I wanted to help them improve their communication skills.  These students simply did not seem to have a sense of trust in me, as an adult who would have their best interest at heart.

These students’ vocabulary, thinking and language skills, and social-emotional skills were far below what one would expect from a child his or her age, despite the fact that they were of average, or possibly slightly below average, intelligence.  Most disturbing to me was that the skills they were lacking were ones that my 4-year old already possesses:  to trust others, to listen and process what he’s hearing (as best he can!), to understand others’ emotions and to express emotions appropriately (as best he can!), and to use common vocabulary to build connections and relationships with people.  These older students were gipped or robbed, at some point, of opportunities to learn and expand their language and social-emotional skills.  Let’s do what we can to help babies and toddlers now (as suggested in the below blog post) so that these students become few and far between.

 

 

 

Baby Policy Blog

Closing the Quality Gap in Infant-Toddler Care

The Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships grew from a recognition that our current child care system—in which 6 million infants and toddlers find themselves daily—just isn’t giving young children the quality support they need to get their early learning on track. The majority of child care for infants and toddlers is of poor to mediocre quality. Babies who start life already at risk, in families who live below the poverty line, in particular do not get the support they need to overcome the obstacles to staying on course developmentally. (Those living in poverty are one quarter of all infants and toddlers in the United States, by the way.) While these children would benefit most from high quality child care, they often are the least likely to receive it.

There are a happy few who are assured of a certain level of quality as soon as they enroll. They are the 100,000 or so infants and toddlers who are in Early Head Start (EHS). All EHS programs must adhere to the Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS). Standards make a difference in a child’s early development and learning. The EHS evaluation, a rigorous, randomized control trial study mandated by Congress, found that children had better outcomes in programs that implemented the HSPPS thoroughly.

This is not to say that there are not child care programs that are of good quality. Some may even receive funding through the main federal child care funding stream, the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). But there is no national floor for quality for CCDBG or any type of child care. States have the flexibility to set standards where they wish and monitor as they like.

Add to the mix the misguided attitude inherent in the idea of child care as purely a work support, not as an early learning setting. Quality—in the sense of care good enough to put or keep infants and toddlers on the right developmental track—has no purchase if the frame of reference is just a place for children to hang out while parents work.

Let’s put that notion to rest once and for all. Early brain development is shaped by early experiences and the relationships with trusted adults who guide those experiences. Babies’ brains don’t know if adults have designated a program “just child care.” But they do know if they don’t get much interaction with the adult who cares for them because she has to tend to five other infants or toddlers. They also know when an adult has time to direct a lot of talking—or “serve and return”—their way, because he is responsible for fewer children. In short, babies’ brains absorb negative experiences as well as positive ones, regardless of the policy goals that shaped the setting in which these experiences occur.

What’s the quality gap? As our fact sheet on Building Partnerships Between Early Head Start Grantees and Child Care Providers points out, EHS standards are generally higher than the floor provided by state regulations. Consider standards for centers in key areas.

  • Ratios: EHS requires a ratio of 1 staff person for every 4 infants and toddlers. While 35 states meet this standard for infants, only 16 states meet it for toddlers.
  • Group size: EHS allows only 8 children in a group. 40% of all states meet or exceed this standard for infants, but very few do so for toddlers.
  • Teacher qualifications: EHS teachers must have a CDA credential or above, or complete one within a year of starting service and must be trained in early childhood development with a focus on infant-toddler development. Only 10 states require lead teachers in child care centers to have a CDA credential or higher.

This gap will be a wide one to bridge for some programs. But they will have yet another indicator of differences between subsidized low-income child care programs and EHS to help them, that is, expenditures per child. The average child care reimbursement for an infant and toddler is $6,000. The average EHS expenditure per child is roughly twice that. This difference is the key to why many providers can’t afford to provide higher quality and why parents on subsidies often don’t have the means to seek it. Where higher quality care exists, it is usually in response to the demands of more affluent parents. Given that reimbursement levels in the vast majority of states don’t approach even the benchmark level of 75th percentile of the market rate, it is unlikely that child care subsidies greatly enhance access for the lowest income families to high quality care, even if they can find it. With the buying power of CCDBG funds steadily eroding while moms continue to enter the labor force, states face a choice of spending their child care dollars trying to maintain enrollment or striving for a higher level of quality.

The EHS-Child Care Partnerships would close these quality gaps, including the cost, by layering EHS funds on child care subsidies where possible. This practice will yield a high enough expenditure per child to implement quality enhancements such as allowing staff to have fewer children in their care and increasing compensation for credentialed employees. The hope is that quality will be infused in child care beyond the children who will now technically be in Early Head Start.

The larger question for the long term is how to ensure that the quality floor for any type of early childhood program is high enough to give the most disadvantaged children the developmental support they need so they won’t face the achievement gap that opens up when they are burbling their first words. As with all actions aimed at supporting positive early development, the key is intentionality. If we want to promote better outcomes for children, we make sure there is a floor of quality high enough to achieve that intent—and the financial resources to reach it.

The Partnerships are important on many levels, not least of which is their explicit acknowledgement that the quality gap exists. They will provide not just a mechanism for improving quality, but it is hoped, a mind set that quality is a necessity regardless of program labels. But to realize this goal for all infants and toddlers in child care will be a huge undertaking, both in terms of hard work in the early childhood field and of investments. It requires a bigger conversation among policymakers at all levels about just how intentional we are going to be in putting our youngest children on the path to school readiness. It is to be hoped that the Partnerships will help spark that conversation.

I Stand Corrected: Devices That Know How We Really Feel

I Stand Corrected: Devices That Know How We Really Feel

In my post yesterday, I wrote that jobs requiring “people” skills would be highly valuable in the future, and, therefore, a good idea for my children to possess the skills needed for those jobs, since computers, smartphones and apps wouldn’t be able to understand human emotions.  However, I stand corrected today after reading Nick Bilton’s blog post for Bits (NY Times blog) titled “Devices That Know How We Really Feel.”

In his post, Bilton reminds readers that “we all get riled up by technology once in a while, with all those feeble batteries, endless updates, and spinning wheels of death.”  He asks us to “admit it:  sometimes you just want to punch your PC, or slap your smartphone, or knock your notebook.”  Then, he proceeds to inform us that technology is heading in the direction of our devices being able to “see it coming” and “pick up the tics and tells of our brewing anger — or, for that matter, any other emotion — and respond accordingly.”  He goes on to say:

Researchers and companies are already starting to employ sensors that try to read and respond to our feelings.

While this sort of technology is still in its early days, the possibilities seem many. One day, your PC might sense your frustration when a program keeps crashing and politely suggest that you take a walk while it contacts tech support. Or your smartphone could sense that passions — of one sort or another — are running high and, in response, disable messaging. Or your car might discern an early case of road rage and soften the car’s lighting and stiffen its steering.

Researchers have been trying to read emotions for years by monitoring facial expressions. But a new generation of sensors can judge emotion through people’s skin and breath.

Although Bilton spent a good chunk of his blog post explaining how this technology will change video gaming, driving and text messaging experiences, the part that intrigued me was that it could improve the lives of children.  He tells us “such technologies could also be used to help children learn by monitoring if they are bored or fidgety, and then enticing a teacher to change a lesson plan or assignment.”  I instantly thought of so many other ways it could make the experience of parenting, as well as of being parented, so much easier.  For example, if parents and caregivers could closely monitor their own emotions (e.g., when returning home to one’s child(ren) after a particularly frustrating day at the office, when a child is engaged in “terrible two’s”-type behavior and driving a parent/caregiver to the point of massive emotional eruption, etc.), adults could be able to scale back on an emotionally-laden response and/or put themselves in “Time Out.”  If children could learn to identify their feelings earlier in their lives by becoming self-aware sooner or if parents could “read” a child’s emotions better with the help of technology, there would likely be less child abuse or parenting by way of shaming or humiliating, which leaves children feeling sad.

When I think of all the students at a Level 5 High School in DC on my speech therapy caseload, who have significant behavior problems and emotional disturbance such that they must attend a “self-contained” high school (I was unable to treat the students today because the school was on lock-down because one of the students brought a gun to school this morning.), I think of how this technology could benefit adults and children.  These students, many of whom as babies and toddlers may not have had the most emotionally intelligent parent or caregiver to help them learn to understand and use emotions, would benefit from this kind of technology (For certain, some of the students have chemical imbalances or congenital conditions that has brought them to the school.).  So, too, would their teachers, who could better assess when a student’s behavior is escalating due to anger or frustration, and, therefore, manage their behaviors better and faster.

Bilton tells us that Dr. Gregory Kovacs, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University acknowledges that this type of technology might sound a bit scary since some may wonder if “we really want our computers, smartphones and cars to know if we’re happy or sad.”  Dr. Kovacs says this is the price we have to pay not only to improve technology but also to protect people.  He tells us “While some might see it as an invasion of privacy, I think operators of such vehicles should give up some privacy in exchange for the trust of human lives placed in their hands.”  And, then, Bilton writes “Hey, it beats smacking your PC.”

After almost hearing the sound of “smacking” in my head when he wrote the words, it was easy for me to see how the lives of children could be much improved with “emotion” technology.  Babies and toddlers, who have such limited language and modes of communication, need protecting from parents and caregivers who might not nurture them properly to be ready for the school setting and beyond.  Young children, who have such limited control of their emotions and language, and who can drive any parent or caregiver “nuts” in no time, deserve to be the beneficiaries of technology that could help them and the grown-ups who are “in charge” of them.  Although parents and caregivers might argue that it is an invasion of privacy, it could be encouraged as a tool that can improve lives, since negative experiences from birth to 3 years old too often have permanent and life-changing results in terms of a trust and attachment issues, personality issues, emotional disturbance, poor school performance, social problems, and so much more.

And, hey, it beats smacking your baby or toddler to get them to understand, express, and control their emotions and behaviors way too soon in their development than they are able, and, in fact, long before the grown-ups around them are even able to do it (Some adults never seem to get there!).