Danielle Z. Kassow, Ph.D.
A colleague of mine recently attended several events in Vancouver where the Dalai Lama was the guest of honor. She shared some of the Dalai Lama’s teachings with me: everything we do has an effect on other people, and in order to have world peace people must first have peace within themselves. I found this to be both poignant and completely relevant when thinking about young children’s social and emotional development.
In August, I attended a brain science and early learning conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. Many of the presentations focused on social-emotional development in the early childhood years as well as on programs that have been developed to teach children about social and emotional skills.
While social-emotional development may seem like an odd pairing for a conference on brain science, emotions are a biologically-based aspect of human functioning. Emotions are actually built into the structure of young children’s brains in response to their individual personal experiences and the influences of the environments in which they live (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004). In other words, human beings are hardwired to have emotions, and parents, other caregivers, home and community environments strongly affect the wiring of the brain through interactions with children.
Social-emotional development has been described as a child’s capacity to:
- identify, understand, experience, manage, and express a full range of positive and negative emotions in a constructive manner;
- regulate one’s own behavior (such as being able to calm down);
- accurately read feelings in others;
- develop empathy for others;
- develop and sustain close, satisfying relationships with other children and adults;
- and actively explore the environment and learn.
The development of these skills begins early in life in the context of relationships with caregivers, and these skills lay the foundation to guide a child into adulthood (Cohen, Onunaku, Clothier, & Poppe, 2005; National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004).
At the conference, I was touched by the number of successful programs designed to teach young children about their own emotions and those of other human beings. It is during the early years of life that children develop the social and emotional skills that prepare them to be self-confident, trusting, empathetic, and intellectually inquisitive adults capable of relating well to others (Cohen et al., 2005). The underlying theme of these programs was a vision of socially and emotionally healthy children and peace for the world.
And often it is during the holiday season that we reflect on the events happening around the world and in our own country. Unfortunately, this season many of these events are war-filled and have grave effects on children and world peace. But the holidays also remind us to think of someone other than ourselves or even our own family, and many use this time to make charitable donations and give to others. This is admirable and should be continued. But I challenge all of us to start a new holiday tradition that is nurtured throughout the year–supporting young children’s social and emotional development to give them a healthy start in becoming a caring citizen of the world. Early childhood is a time of life when young children are eager to learn. What better gift than to teach them about themselves and other human beings?
Can You Say Peace? By Karen Katz, 2006, Henry Holt and Company.
If Peace is… By Jane Baskwill, 2003, MONDO Publishing.
The Peace Book By Todd Parr, 2004, Little, Brown and Company.
The Giving Tree By Shel Silverstein, 1964, HarperCollins.
Cohen, C., Onunaku, N., Clothier, S., Poppe, J. (2005). Helping young children succeed: Strategies to promote early childhood social and emotional development. (Research and Policy Report). Washington, D.C.: National Conference of State Legislatures.
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2004). Children’s emotional development is built into the architecture of their brain: Working Paper No. 2. Retrieved October 4, 2005 from http://www.developingchild.net/reports.shtml.