What Babies and Toddlers Need to Learn: Be Human, It Will Pay

What Babies and Toddlers Need to learn: Be Human, It Will Pay

The world is changing so rapidly.  Technology has changed our lives so much in the past 10 years.  Thinking about what life will be like a decade down the line is crucial to those of us raising children who will eventually turn into adults and workers.  We have to know now what our children will need to be successful in a world that does not even exist yet.  My parents certainly never could have known what skills to teach me some 40-odd years ago for this digital world in which I live, and maybe that’s been part of the parenting “condition” since the dawn of man, but since I have always been someone who prefers spending time looking ahead rather than looking backwards or at the present, I’m highly motivated to prepare my children for the future.

To help parents who are too busy, like me, chasing and driving children around to envision the future for them, Claire Cain and Chi Birmingham wrote “A Vision of the Future From Those Likely to Invent It” for The Upshot, a New York Times venture that presents news, analysis and graphics about politics and policy.  Much of what was predicted was changes in technology and interfacing with the world, but the part that stuck out most for me regarding raising my children were two of Mark Andreessen’s comments:

1)  “Far more generalized acceptance of widespread variations in human behavior. All of us who were raised pre-Internet were taught that there is something called ‘normal,’ and I think that whole concept might go right out the window.”

2)  “There is a bow wave of uncounted billions of dollars of philanthropic contributions that will unfold over the next 10 to 20 years from Silicon Valley.”

His comments force me to ask my parent-self such questions as “Have I instilled in my children a solid ability to observe, interpret and manage their own or others’ behaviors?,” “Do my children possess the emotional intelligence to get along well with others and work with all different “kinds” of people?,” and “Will my children be able to identify the needs of communities, cities, etc. to help philanthropists find ways to improve our world?”

Quentin Hardy, writer of the above-linked article “Valuable Humans in Our Digital Future” for Bits Blog for the NY Times, gives the following advice to the college graduates of the class of 2014 “Be human” and “It pays.”  His blog post includes a chart from an article in The New York Times on Thursday about poverty and the prices of goods.  According to Hardy:

The article discusses how, in just the last nine years, the prices of many once-luxury manufactured goods have fallen sharply, affording the poor a more rewarding life. Prices of things associated with actually escaping poverty, like college, health care and child care, have soared.

There is another way to view the chart, however, that tells an interesting story about the impact of technology on society: Increasingly, the most valuable things in our world involve people looking at you, touching you and understanding you.

What does Hardy’s post tell me?  It tells me that if I want my children to have sought after skills and to be hirable in the future job market, I need to be raising them to be “people” people.  As the world of computers, software, social media and apps takes over, there will always be the need for human beings.  Hardy says there is evidence that “human contact has become relatively scarce, and therefore valuable, in a digitally-driven society. Many of the new digital publishers, particularly technology sites like Recode or TechCrunch, make some money on web ads, but count even more on live events and conferences.”  He gives us the example of the the annual TED conference, which attracts the digital elite who desire to be in contact with one another, as well as the examples from the world of music, in which you can listen to songs for free or buy them for a buck or so online, but also in which concert tickets can cost upwards of $1,800 on StubHub to experience Bruce Springsteen live.

This world rich in digital information will place importance on careers and aspects of life that may have been minimized or overlooked as important in my upbringing.  Hardy reports that workers such as psychologists, nurse practitioners, home health care providers, personal trainers and life coaches will increase in value.  He tells us that “physical contact, and the personal trust and relationship that still comes by spending time with someone, has become even more valuable, since it is harder to come by,” and, therefore, it’s easy to imagine how it will continue to become even more valuable in a decade and beyond.  Hardy also gives us parents the following to think about for our children as we guide them through development:

The ever-higher rejection rate of elite colleges despite the increasing popularity of high-quality free online alternatives like Coursera makes perfect sense. People don’t want to be at Stanford; they want the personal relationships they get from being at Stanford. In a fast-changing digital world, that durable human network may in a decade be more valuable than anything a student learned in the classroom.

For some technologists, this shift represents a source of hope. The rejiggering of values means that much of the work that currently defines people will go away, but the parts of life that can’t be encoded will become the basis of still-unseen economic activity.

According to SriSatish Ambati, co-founder and chief executive of 0xdata, a company involved in open source software for big data analysis, “We’re moving towards a ‘post-automated’ world, where the valuable thing about people will be their emotional content.  The only way to defeat the machines is if the world, including our brains, has an impossible level of complexity that the machines can never map.”

Armed with this information, I have a renewed sense of duty to make sure my children understand and use emotional content appropriately and accurately in order to negotiate the world in the future.  I will work harder to help them to understand and manage their own and others’ emotions.  I will aim to teach them to be keen observers of others’ body language and other forms of non-verbal communication while they listen to the others speak, since computers and apps are a long way off from being able to understand complex human behaviors and communication.  I will help them understand how emotions affect our thinking, reasoning and attentional abilities.  In fact, I now find myself thinking of all the ways that I can help my children develop the emotional intelligence in order to best prepare them for their future!






Five Numbers to Remember About Early Childhood Development

Five Numbers to Remember About Early Childhood Development

The “Five Numbers to Remember” link takes readers to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child’s website.  The Center’s mission is to leverage the rapidly growing knowledge about the developing brain and human genome, which tells us that early experiences are built into our bodies and that early childhood is a time of both great promise and considerable risk, in order to drive science-based innovation that achieves breakthrough outcomes for children facing adversity.  

By carefully and seriously considering the “Five Numbers to Remember,” the Center on the Developing Child explains what the five numbers tell us:

  1. Getting things right the first time is easier and more effective than trying to fix them later.
  2. Early childhood matters because experiences early in life can have a lasting impact on later learning, behavior, and health.
  3. Highly specialized interventions are needed as early as possible for children experiencing toxic stress.
  4. Early life experiences actually get under the skin and into the body, with lifelong effects on adult physical and mental health.
  5. All of society benefits from investments in early childhood programs.

Here are the Five Numbers the faculty and staff of the Center ask us to remember:

  1. There are 700 new neuronal connections per second in a baby’s brain in the first few years of life.
  2. Disparities in the vocabularies of children first appear at 18 months, based on whether they were born into a family with high education and income or low education and income. By age 3, children with college-educated parents or primary caregivers had vocabularies 2 to 3 times larger than those whose parents had not completed high school.
  3. There is a 90 – 100% chance of developmental delays when children experience 6-7 specific risk factors in early childhood.
  4. Adults who recall having 7-8 serious adverse experiences in childhood are 3 times more likely to have cardiovascular disease as an adult.
  5. There is a $4 – $9 return for every dollar invested in early childhood programs for low income children.

Raising a Moral Child: Calling All Parents and Those Who Can Support Them!

Raising a Moral Child: Calling All Parents and Those Who Can Support Them!

It’s time for my come-to-Jesus moment about my bookmarks bar.  Perhaps the aha moment came in the glow of the Easter holiday or the chaos of spring break as a working, single mother of 5 children.  Perhaps it was a single moment of realization when I thought that I must share all the articles that have been lurking on my bar for far too long.  Perhaps it’s my spring cleaning mode happening in my domicile that has bled into my work at my laptop.  Regardless, it’s time to find a way to condense all the recent articles about babies, toddlers and families into one blog, right here and now.

Despite the fact that all the articles on my bookmarks bar focus on my life’s mission, getting every child ready for school by 36 months of age, summarizing and condensing all the information is not going to be an easy task for me, a self-professed “verbatim note-taker” (Having anything written down serves me best for recall later, so better to write everything down!) and a strong believer in “it’s not who you know, but what you know” when it comes to making informed decisions about giving children the best start in life.  Alas, I shall do my best, and what I can’t include here will forever be deleted from my bookmarks bar to make more space for more current information.

I include the above link to Adam Grant’s April 11, 2014 NY Times article on raising a moral child as the “highlight” of my blog for several reasons.  First, Grant asks, in the first line of his article, the most important question one needs to be able to answer to get all children ready for school and life by 36 months of age:  “What does it take to be a good parent?.”  This is a question that parents and caregivers need to be asking themselves every day.  Second, he goes on to provide research and evidence that tells us not about tricks for raising children who are high-achievers, but for teaching children to be kind, compassionate, and helpful, which Grant reports is the No. 1 priority for most parents in 50 countries, including the United States.  He informs us that “by age 2, children experience some moral emotions — feelings triggered by right and wrong,” which helps us remember that the foundations of character are being put into place long before a child’s third birthday.  Last, I highlight this article because it reminds me as a parent that trying to raise kids who are caring, generous, helpful, not shame-prone, and responsive, in a healthy way, to others’ disappointment in them will happen less by instilling shame and more by instilling guilt as well as less by preaching and more by role-modeling.

Two pieces of Grant’s article give us the information we need to know how to be the kind of parent who can raise a moral child (I’m including merely chunks of his article here for each important piece):

1)  In one study spearheaded by the psychologist Karen Caplovitz Barrett, parents rated their toddlers’ tendencies to experience shame and guilt at home. The toddlers received a rag doll, and the leg fell off while they were playing with it alone. The shame-prone toddlers avoided the researcher and did not volunteer that they broke the doll. The guilt-prone toddlers were more likely to fix the doll, approach the experimenter, and explain what happened. The ashamed toddlers were avoiders; the guilty toddlers were amenders.

If we want our children to care about others, we need to teach them to feel guilt rather than shame when they misbehave. In a review of research on emotions and moral development, the psychologist Nancy Eisenberg suggests that shame emerges when parents express anger, withdraw their love, or try to assert their power through threats of punishment: Children may begin to believe that they are bad people.

The most effective response to bad behavior is to express disappointment. According to independent reviews by Professor Eisenberg and David R. Shaffer, parents raise caring children by expressing disappointment and explaining why the behavior was wrong, how it affected others, and how they can rectify the situation. This enables children to develop standards for judging their actions, feelings of empathy and responsibility for others, and a sense of moral identity, which are conducive to becoming a helpful person. The beauty of expressing disappointment is that it communicates disapproval of the bad behavior, coupled with high expectations and the potential for improvement: “You’re a good person, even if you did a bad thing, and I know you can do better.”

2)  In a classic experiment, the psychologist J. Philippe Rushton gave 140 elementary- and middle-school-age children tokens for winning a game, which they could keep entirely or donate some to a child in poverty. They first watched a teacher figure play the game either selfishly or generously, and then preach to them the value of taking, giving or neither. The adult’s influence was significant: Actions spoke louder than words. When the adult behaved selfishly, children followed suit. The words didn’t make much difference — children gave fewer tokens after observing the adult’s selfish actions, regardless of whether the adult verbally advocated selfishness or generosity. When the adult acted generously, students gave the same amount whether generosity was preached or not — they donated 85 percent more than the norm in both cases. When the adult preached selfishness, even after the adult acted generously, the students still gave 49 percent more than the norm. Children learn generosity not by listening to what their role models say, but by observing what they do.

To test whether these role-modeling effects persisted over time, two months later researchers observed the children playing the game again.  The most generous children were those who watched the teacher give but not say anything. Two months later, these children were 31 percent more generous than those who observed the same behavior but also heard it preached. The message from this research is loud and clear: If you don’t model generosity, preaching it may not help in the short run, and in the long run, preaching is less effective than giving while saying nothing at all.

At this point, I want to break away from parents, caregivers and teachers need to know in order to give babies and toddlers the best chance at school and life readiness and focus on what entire communities, towns/cities and segments of society (i.e., women and the poor) in the United States need in order to thrive and give children 0-3 what they need to be successful in life.  The remaining “lurking” articles on my bookmarks bar address the issue of giving the people who take care of babies, toddlers and children the things they need in order to raise moral, physically and emotionally healthy, high-achieveing children:  time and money.

In his April 12, 2014 NY Times article titled “Women’s Unequal Lot,” Ben Wiseman paints a clear picture of a working mother’s life when he describes his sister, who works three or four jobs:  her paid one at an executive search firm as well as her work as a parent, in which she functions as “chauffeur, drill sergeant, cheerleader and emotional nursemaid for her two children and two stepchildren,” and as the vice president of her New Jersey township’s board of education.  Wiseman adds that she also offered to host him and 19 of their family members for the Easter holiday, in which she feels “her character and her femininity” will be judged positively or negatively, depending on how smoothly she will be able to pull off the event.  Despite having a husband who Wiseman freely admits is “a champ” who “pitches in, lavishly,” he goes on to tell us that “the buck really does stop with” his sister.

Wiseman’s motivation in writing the article was obviously not to place his sister on a pedestal (although he did a great job doing so, since she clearly deserves to be on one!).  Instead, he uses it as a venue to report on the fact that not only is there income and employment opportunity disparities at play in a working mother’s life, but that there are other disparities that his sister (and all women) face which are “so much more complicated than her salary.”  He says:

Decades into the discussion about how to ensure women’s equality, we have a culture that still places a different set of expectations and burdens on women and that still nudges or even shames them into certain roles.

There was too little recognition of that last week at the White House, where President Obama practiced the timeless political art of oversimplification, reducing a messy reality into a tidy figure and saying that working women make only 77 cents for every dollar that working men earn. He left the impression that this was principally the consequence of direct discrimination in the form of unequal pay for the same job.

Some of it is, and that’s flatly unacceptable.

But most of it isn’t. And the misuse of the 77-cent statistic could actually hurt the important cause of giving women a fair shake, because it allows people who don’t value that goal a way to discredit those of us who do, and because it gives short shrift to dynamics that must be a part of any meaningful, truthful, constructive discussion.

Wiseman says that “by suggesting that the chief culprit for women’s inferior earnings is discriminatory pay, the 77-cent figure lets too many men off the hook, not forcing them to confront their culpability as bosses who care too little for women’s advancement, as husbands who prioritize their own careers and as fathers who don’t participate fully around the house.”  He reveals that Arlie Russell Hochschild, the sociologist who examined the burden of working women in the book “The Second Shift,” told him that since her book’s publication 25 years ago, men have improved — but not enough. Back then, she said, “If you put a woman’s paid and unpaid labor beside her husband’s, and they both worked full time and had kids under 6, she was working an extra month.” Now, she told Wiseman, “it’s an extra two weeks.”  But, then, Wiseman adds:

That situation, she cautioned, pertains largely to affluent women. For less affluent ones, the issue is often men who are entirely absent. Equal-pay legislation doesn’t begin to address what these women need.

The final two NY Times articles hanging around on my bookmarks bar haven’t been there long.  They address the reality of poor children in America, who struggle to be ready for life, let alone ready for school by the age of 3.  In Trip Gabriel’s April 20 article titled “50 Years Into the War on Poverty, Hardship Hits Back,” we learn of entire communities and generations of families that are no where near achieving the American dream.  Gabriel focuses on McDowell County, the poorest in West Virginia, which has been “emblematic of entrenched American poverty for more than a half-century.”  According to Gabriel:

John F. Kennedy campaigned here in 1960 and was so appalled that he promised to send help if elected president. His first executive order created the modern food stamp program, whose first recipients were McDowell County residents. When President Lyndon B. Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty” in 1964, it was the squalor of Appalachia he had in mind. The federal programs that followed — Medicare, Medicaid, free school lunches and others — lifted tens of thousands above a subsistence standard of living.

But a half-century later, with the poverty rate again on the rise, hardship seems merely to have taken on a new face in McDowell County. The economy is declining along with the coal industry, towns are hollowed out as people flee, and communities are scarred by family dissolution, prescription drug abuse and a high rate of imprisonment.

Forty-six percent of children in the county do not live with a biological parent, according to the school district. Their mothers and fathers are in jail, are dead or have left them to be raised by relatives

Although groups, such as the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, which is working to create a home visitation service to teach new parents the skills of child-rearing, try to make a difference in the lives of children and families, generations of American children quietly slip into the cracks and gutters, never to have the same opportunities of getting an education and being self-sufficient as other American children.  Sabrina Shrader, who spoke on behalf of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition to the State Legislature and appeared before a United States Senate committee last year, spent part of her youth in a battered women’s shelter with her mother and proceeded to earn a college degree in social work.  She sums up the crisis that we as Americans all need to be thinking about, for the health and well-being of our nation, in saying “It’s important we care about places like this.  There are kids and families who want to succeed. They want life to be better, but they don’t know how.”

The second article which deals with helping families is Judith Warner’s April 20, 2014 article titled “To Reduce Inequality, Start with Families.”  She tells us that “fighting inequality” is a hot theme in politics these days in order “to connect with voters.”  She says:

President Obama alluded to it in the State of the Union when he issued the call “to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode,” and to update our laws so that a woman can “have a baby without sacrificing her job” and to allow people “to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship.” It floated to the surface again at the Piketty panel, when Betsey Stevenson, a University of Michigan economist now serving on the White House Council of Economic Advisers, noted the “asymmetry” of early life experiences that increase inequality among American children, which plays out, in adulthood, as a gap in income-earning potential. “We know that investing more in young children will cause them to be more productive,” she said. Later, she pointed out that “high-income people are able to make investments in their children that lower-income people aren’t able to make.”

Warner goes on to say:

The message is clear: If we want to strike at the roots of inequality in America, we’ve got to start at its source, in the family, at the very beginning of children’s lives. We have to make it possible for mothers — two-thirds of whom are now breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families — to stay in the work force without the sort of family-related job interruptions that can greatly limit their lifetime earnings and even push some families into bankruptcy. We need to make it possible for all parents to give their kids the kind of head start that is increasingly becoming an exclusive birthright of the well-off.

Unlike progressive taxation, this sort of focus on the family really ought to have bipartisan support. And the good news is that there are decades’ worth of shovel-ready legislative and policy proposals that we can draw on: proposals regarding family leave, paid sick days, early childhood education, child care and workplace flexibility that have been stymied for decades.

In Europe, it’s well-established that legislation aimed at keeping women in the work force, and, by extension, helping all families live and thrive amid the present-day realities of working parenthood, is one of the most powerful tools governments can use to fight the long-term, multigenerational ill-effects of income inequality.

In the United States, where virtually no such public policy exists, there’s evidence that families that do have access to paid leave and flexibility through their employers are faring considerably better than those that don’t. In December, a longitudinal survey of more than 100 working- and middle-class families published by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University found that the rewards of allowing families to build wealth over time went “far beyond the paycheck.” Most important, beyond basic benefits, were stable employment and workplace flexibility.

Warner tells us that some segments of workplace society do have access to parental leave and earned family or sick time, others do not. High wage workers enjoy the benefits, but those who earn the lowest wages do not.  Warner says, “What this all means is that the people who are already in the most precarious economic circumstances are the most at risk for a devastating loss of income — and assets — when they need to care for their children. And those already in the strongest earning position see their earning potential grow, thanks to private-sector policies specifically devised to motivate and retain them.”

No one, not Warner, Wiseman, Grant or myself would fault anyone for wanting or being able to earn to their maximum potential.  This is America, after all.  But, the problem is that parents trying to raise children to be ready for school and life in order to be self-sufficient in the long term, are finding it increasingly difficult to get their children ready and to keep them successful over the years.  Parents have to provide excellent care, model moral behavior, provide healthy food, and spend quality time with their children in order to give them the best start in life.  But it doesn’t stop after maternity or paternity leave is over.  Warner tells us “Today, the ability of parents to make the most basic time investments in their children — taking time for parent-teacher conferences or setting a schedule that permits a parent to sometimes be home in the after-school hours — is sharply divided by income level.”  She goes on to say:

The lack of availability of parental time has serious detrimental effects on children’s behavior, ability to learn and emotional development — all of which affect performance in school and, eventually, the workplace. In California, however, access to paid family leave has allowed workers to better care for their newborns and also to make better child care arrangements. And both men and women in the state who used paid leave reported a positive effect on their ability to care for their children. Such lessons about human resource cultivation have not been lost on China, which now includes as part of its economic growth policies a provision that women employed in public enterprises get 98 days of paid maternity leave.

As a nation, we have to show concern and communicate ideas that can make our country stronger.  We have to use our internal moral compass that Grant told us about, which, ideally, our parents had the time and inclination to instill in us from a very young age, to do the right thing by showing concern for those who Gabriel informed us about in his article: those in McDowell County, WV, on Indian reservations in the West, in Hispanic communities in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, those in a band across the Deep South and along the Mississippi Delta with a majority black population, and those in Appalachia.  As Wiseman said, “we have to show concern and talk about child care, flexible hours, paid leave. We have to talk about gender stereotypes and whether they steer women into professions with lower compensation. We have to talk about the choices that women make and which of those they feel muscled into.”  Can we all do what Warner asks for at the end of her article:  band together to pledge to fight inequality by creating a more equal start for kids and agree that helping families work and care for one another is precisely what we need to create opportunity for all?

I’ll say it again, as I did above, it’s the United States of America, after all.  There must be ways to achieve what our founding fathers set down for us, a promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, and to see put into action what Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address in terms of “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”  I am a hopeful, faithful person, so I’m sure it will all work out in the end.  However, for the sake of babies, toddlers, children, parents, caregivers, families, communities and cities across the great nation, I hope the end happens in the next year or two, rather than having another 50 years go by, as it has for the war on poverty, with life remaining stagnant or getting worse rather than getting better for such huge portions of our society.

Quality Early Childhood Interventions, Like Abecedarian, Improve Health Outcomes and Reduce Healthcare Spending and Social Welfare Costs


I had intended to blog yesterday morning about some informative NY Times “baby-toddler” articles that I read over the weekend, but, alas, my kids being home for Spring break and other distractions prevented me from doing so.  I will get to those articles soon when life settles.  In the meantime, because life is so busy and “rollercoastery” this week, I will do what the Heckman Equation asked me to do in the email that I received yesterday:  feature their blog post (Heckman and his colleagues, as if right on cue, seemed to know that life was busy this week for blogging moms and dads, so they provided an already-written post!).

Here is the email:

Thank you for joining last week’s webinar on the long-term health effects of the Abecedarian early childhood program. We hope that this exciting new research from Professor Heckman and colleagues will be helpful in your work. Quality early interventions, like Abecedarian, have huge potential to improve health outcomes for disadvantaged children and reduce healthcare spending and social welfare costs. We urge you to share this information with other advocates, policymakers and the media.

We’re writing today with a request that you feature the following blog post on your organization’s website or write your own.

You can also find the slide deck and other related resources online atheckmanequation.org/health-research.

A new way to prevent chronic disease: early health, nutrition and education.

By The Heckman Equation

The Perry Preschool study has shown that high-quality early development programs for disadvantaged children can lead to better education, social and economic outcomes for individuals and society. New research from Professor Heckman and colleagues at the University of Chicago, University College London and the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina has demonstrated another remarkable benefit of early childhood programs that include early health, nutrition and learning: better adult health outcomes.

The researchers analyzed over 30 years of longitudinal data on the health effects of the Carolina Abecedarian Project. Abecedarian was unique in providing center-based education, primary pediatric care—including health screenings and periodic check-ups—and nutrition services to disadvantaged children, beginning shortly after birth and continuing through age 5. While control group children were eligible for Medicaid and had access to community clinics, the local health department office and the hospital ER, they didn’t receive the comprehensive and coordinated set of developmental services, experiences and skills that the treatment group received at the childcare center.

Thorough medical check-ups of participants in their mid-30s revealed that treatment group individuals were in significantly better health than their peers in the control group, with a much lower prevalence of risk factors for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, such as stroke and diabetes. Treatment group males had higher “good” HDL cholesterol and substantially reduced levels of hypertension, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome, which dramatically increases one’s risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Women in the treatment group were less likely to suffer from pre-hypertension and obesity. And, both men and women were at significantly lower risk for total coronary heart disease than those in the control group.

What are the implications—and potential applications—of these findings? Early intervention is a promising strategy for disease prevention, and these findings should be used to inform smarter health and education policies. The evidence suggests that we can improve health and economic outcomes for disadvantaged children through comprehensive and coordinated early childhood programs. These programs should start at birth and ensure that disadvantaged children have access to cognitive and emotional stimulation, health care and nutrition. This will likely increase their chances of getting a healthy start in life and staying healthy by providing them with the cognitive and character skills necessary to self-diagnose, seek medical treatment and follow doctors’ orders. This approach not only benefits the children receiving the care, but society as a whole, as the prevention of costly chronic diseases through early childhood programs has great potential to reduce healthcare spending and social welfare costs.

You can find the full research paper, a two-page summary, short videos, shareable quotes, infographics and more at heckmanequation.org/health-research.


March 2014 ZERO TO THREE Journal: Prenatal Influences on Child Development

I am sharing the March 2014 Volume 34 No. 4 issue of the ZERO TO THREE Journal that I received today by email.  If you would like to receive the ZERO TO THREE Journal too, you can call 1(800) 899-4301 or email slacy@zerotothree.org.

ZERO TO THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families

1255 23rd Street, NW | Suite 350 | Washington, DC 20037 | (202) 638-1144

Such great information in the journal below!




Prenatal Influences on Child Development


PRENATAL FOUNDATIONS: Fetal Programming of Health and Development

Elysia Poggi Davis and Ross A. Thompson

The fetal programming and developmental origins of disease models suggest that experiences that occur before birth can have consequences for physical and mental health that persist across the lifespan. Development is more rapid during the prenatal period as compared to any other stage of life. This introductory article considers evidence that fetal exposure to stress and stress hormones influences stress and emotional regulation, cognitive functioning, and brain development during infancy and childhood. The authors consider implications for intervention and future research directions.


UNDERSTANDING PREGNANCY ANXIETY: Concepts, Correlates, and Consequences

Christine M. Guardino and Christine Dunkel Schetter

Pregnancy anxiety is a particular emotional state tied to pregnancy-specific concerns, such as worries about the health of the baby and childbirth. A growing body of research demonstrates that pregnancy anxiety is an important risk factor for preterm birth and other adverse birth and child development outcomes. This article defines and describes the concept of pregnancy anxiety, provides a summary of evidence linking pregnancy anxiety to outcomes, and identifies characteristics of women and their pregnancies that contribute to high levels of pregnancy anxiety. The authors also discuss possible clinical implications and interventions to reduce pregnancy anxiety.



Vivette Glover, T. G. O’Connor, K. O’Donnell, and Lauren Capron

There is good evidence that if a woman is depressed, anxious, or stressed while she is pregnant, then there is an increased risk that her child will have emotional, behavioral, or cognitive problems. Her own biology must cause these effects, but it is not known how. One important line of research suggests that the function of the placenta changes in response to maternal mood in ways that may allow more of the stress hormone cortisol, and the neurotransmitter serotonin to pass through to the developing fetus and affect brain development. A better understanding of these mechanisms should eventually help researchers devise interventions to improve child development and health.



Pilyoung Kim and Hannah Bianco

Poverty-associated chronic stress is a serious threat not only to a mother’s mental health but also to maternal functioning. Recent neuroimaging studies suggest that a mother’s brain undergoes dynamic changes to support her transition to parenthood, including better emotion regulation and heightened sensitivity to infants. However, we propose that the chronic stress experienced by low-income mothers may result in damage to such adaptive neural changes, and in turn increase risk for postpartum depression and harsh parenting. Understanding of the neurobiological risk markers involved may help develop more precise interventions and treatments aimed at improving low-income mothers’ psychological health and mother–infant relationships.



Kimberly D’Anna-Hernandez and Kendra Dyanne Rivera

Women from minority populations, such as Mexican-American women, face unique social and cultural stressors that are different from men and women in the majority population. These differences have important consequences for the physical and mental health of pregnant mothers and contribute to perinatal health inequalities. As the population in the U.S. continues to diversify, the health care community is becoming more aware of how stressors affect demographic populations differently. Particularly for Mexican-American women, acculturation to mainstream culture poses risks for the mother and child that may be driven by acculturative stress. Protective cultural practices need to be identified in research and practice to promote healthier maternal outcomes for vulnerable populations.



Marisa Spann, Jennifer Smerling, Hanna Gustafsson, Sophie Foss, and Catherine Monk

Measuring and understanding fetal neurodevelopment provides insight regarding the developing brain. Maternal nutrient intake and psychological stress during pregnancy each impact fetal neurodevelopment and influence childhood outcomes and are thus important factors to consider when studying fetal neurobehavioral development. The authors provide an overview of fetal neurobehavioral development and the unique contribution of nutrition and psychological stress on the fetus during pregnancy.



David W. Willis

There have been revolutionary advances in the last decade in researchers’ understanding of the genesis of life course health from the critical formative experiences before birth. Even more striking are the factors in a mother’s developmental and nutritional history and experience that shape her health, a healthy pregnancy and delivery, and the future life course health and development of her offspring. With emerging and irrefutable epidemiological data in support of the fetal programming and developmental origins of disease model, current major national policies and investments in the U.S. are ever more essential to support the health, nutrition, and well-being of mothers before, during, and after pregnancies—not only for their own benefit, but more important, for that of their babies—the country’s future citizens.


PERSPECTIVES—A PLACE TO BEGIN: Engaging Parents With Their Baby Before Birth

Linda Gilkerson and Nick Wechsler

The Community-Based Family Administered Neonatal Activities (CB–FANA; Cardone, Gilkerson, & Wechsler, 2005) offers home visitors and expectant parents a new way to be together during the unfolding months before birth. The CB- FANA is used across Illinois by the Ounce of Prevention Fund to prepare home visitors and doulas for their work with mothers and fathers and to help them become emotionally available and attuned parents and help them engage with their baby beginning before birth.


Something fun for Operation Ready By 3 followers to participate in!  Pass it along to get as many people involved as possible!

FROM ZERO TO THREE:   Caption This Photo! Babies & the Appropriations Process 

What does this photo say to you about babies and the federal appropriations process?  Send us (ZERO TO THREE) your creative caption ideas and be sure to write a caption that describes the way this photo relates to the current appropriations process and government funding for infant-toddler programs.  We will announce the favorite caption in the next issue of The Baby Monitor, on the ZERO TO THREE Policy Network’s Facebook page, and on ZERO TO THREE’s Twitter feed.

Submit your best caption ideas to policycenter@zerotothree.org by this Friday, April 4. Be sure to include “Caption This Photo!” in the e-mail subject line.

Trying to Close a Word Gap, Word by Word

Trying to Close a Word Gap, Word by Word

The NY Times article, written by Motoko Rich on March 25, 2014, spotlights, once again, the importance of talking to babies and toddlers. By way of the LENA device, a tiny recording device worn by a child that distinguishes between words overheard from TV or other electronics and live human conversation, staff from home visiting programs can help parents understand the importance of not only the number of words spoken to babies and toddlers but also the kinds of words spoken.  Dana Suskind, a pediatric surgeon at the University of Chicago who founded the Thirty Million Words Initiative, which oversees home visiting programs and public information campaigns, tells us “every parent can talk,” meaning talking to children does not depend on family background, race, socio-economic status or education.  But, Claire Lerner, director of parenting resources at Zero to Three, the nonprofit group that promotes healthy development in the early years, reminds us “It’s not just saying, ‘You need to say this amount of words to your kids every day and then they’re going to be smart and successful.’ ”  She adds, “We don’t want parents talking at babies.  We want parents talking with babies.”

Parents and caregivers need to remember that although “talk is cheap” (which is a great thing when it comes to all parents and caregivers being able to give it to the babies and toddlers in their lives), it’s not going to be easy!  Conor P. Williams wrote a piece on February 10, 2014 for EdCentral titled “New Research:  Why Infants and Toddlers are so Exhausting.”  In his piece, Williams paints the picture of infants and toddlers as “incessantly in motion” beings.  He tells us “Developmentally speaking, infants and toddlers are moving fast. Which is exhausting for parents.”  For the non-scientist parents in the crowds, Williams kindly translates some research from Brown University and King’s College London, published in the Journal of Neuroscience.  This is what he has to say:

As very young children babble and stumble many thousands of times through their early years, they’re steadily building myelinated connections between various sections of their brains. By three years old, kids have twice as many neural pathways as adults. As they grow, they “prune” these down to think and act more efficiently—they develop routines that codify into habits and myelinated connections in the brain. 


This is where the new research comes in. The study used MRIs to track the children’s myelin development, with an eye to seeing if specific patterns of myelination corresponded with language abilities. Much of their findings confirmed what many other studies have shown: the early years are enormously important for children’s linguistic development. This is the period when stimuli from the outside environment have the greatest impact—children who hear more words in these years obtain verbal advantages that last a lifetime.


But the study also found that myelination patterns stabilized around age four, suggesting a critical developmental point when children’s brains start to become less pliable. As they age beyond then, their brains become more like adults—and their pace of development slows down. Good news for tired parents like me, as well as a useful reminder to policymakers considering when they ought to invest limited resources for improving children’s linguistic abilities.

Then Williams goes on to report a story his own father told him after Williams had his first child about a a publicity stunt involving legendary multisport athlete Jim Thorpe. He writes:

Apparently, he agreed to spend an entire day mimicking a toddler’s every movement. Thorpe, the century’s greatest athlete, the Olympic champion, bowed out after only a few hours. This research suggests that, had he squared off against a six-year-old, he might have had a chance. But against a toddler (read: “developmental powerhouse”), he was doomed


Williams makes two very powerful points.  First, he tells us that by age 4, the age at which children will start preschool in many states which are funding and fighting for Pre-K programs for all children, children’s brains are already becoming less plastic.  The brain of a 4-year old is already “hardening,” in terms of becoming less able to develop new pathways from learning and stimulation.  Stated another way, the time for stimulating brains and encouraging brain development is prior to age 4. Second, Williams informs us (for those of us who did not already know!), babies and toddlers are exhausting. It’s difficult for parents and caregivers to “give it their all” with infants and toddlers because it’s hard for us to keep up the pace with them.  

Because of this, we need to understand that families with infants and toddlers need special care and attention.  Having an infant or toddler, especially if one if poor, homeless, jobless, unable to make ends meet, or any other version of “stressed,” can push anyone to the breaking point.  Families and caregivers of young children need support so that they can provide the best learning experiences and moments of brain development possible to the infants and toddlers in their lives.  Of course, this is going to cost money.  However, as economists, such as James Heckman, have found, funding programs that support families with young children pay off in spades.  Investing in children and families from the start, for a few years until the child is off and running (literally and figuratively), directly decreases the costs for special education, resource teachers, high school dropout rates, teen pregnancies, welfare recipients, and housing prison inmates.

For those of us with infants and toddlers in our lives, either because we have them around or we work with them, let’s get talking while “running” along side those little ones.  There is so much to be gained from doing so!