Time to grow emotionally
2 Dec 2009
Sue describes how despite the fact that "other government departments have in recent years acknowledged how early parenting is the key to laying down the foundations for emotional wellbeing. The first two or three years are the crucial window when various systems which manage emotions are put into place. In particular, it is when we learn to exercise self-control and to be aware of other people’s needs. Without these basic emotional skills children may not grow up emotionally competent.
But to achieve this basic emotional literacy, babies need to be with people they are attached to well beyond nine months. They need to be with people who are safe and familiar, who know them well, respond to them quickly and, above all, love them. The idea that their main caregiver should be forced by economic necessity to take paid employment – or encouraged to let someone else manage their baby’s emotional development – is ludicrous.
Sue goes on to describe how research has shown that "the earlier babies are put into nurseries, and the longer they are there, the more likely their emotional distress will result in them being aggressive and difficult at school. Recent research by Clancy Blair at Pennsylvania State University also suggests that children’s academic achievement is highly dependent on the emotional foundations that are put in place in the first couple of years.
"Yet instead of moving towards greater support for early parenting, the government is sending the message that this is a luxury we cannot afford. Mothers should leave their babies and get back to earning money. The worthy goal of lifting children out of poverty is invoked. Of course we don’t want children to feel excluded from society, to suffer from their parents’ financial anxieties, or to live in communities of workless, frustrated adults. Yet it is simple-minded of the government to conclude that forcing parents into work is the most effective way to end child poverty.
The men in the Treasury are casting around for easy targets to balance their books and meet their child poverty targets. But they have lost sight of what really matters. Children’s wellbeing starts with positive early relationships from birth. This is one investment we must make, however expensive it is. In the long run, we will even save money.
(The Guardian, 2 December 2009)
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