Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why by Paul Tough

5. Parents

  • One of the most important findings of this new cohort of researchers is that for most children, the environmental factors that matter most have less to do with the buildings they live in than with the relationships they experience – the way the adults in their lives interact with them, especially in times of stress. Research has shown that when parents behave harshly or unpredictably the children are less likely over time to develop the ability to manage strong emotions and more likely to respond ineffectively to stressful situations. Neuroscientists have over the past decade uncovered evidence that parental caregiving, especially in moments of stress, affects children’s development not only on the level of hormones and brain chemicals, but even more deeply, on the level of gene expression.

6. Trauma

  • We know that when children experience toxic stress, especially when they are very young, it can disrupt their development in profound ways, compromising their immune system, their executive functions, and their mental health. While you may think of a trauma as a one-time event, children don’t experience parental divorce or mental illness or neglect on a specific day; they experience them every day.

7. Neglect

  • There exists in children’s lives a whole spectrum of environmental factors that fall short of the traditional definition of trauma but still have an adverse effect on brain development. A growing body of evidence suggests that one of the most serious threats to a child’s healthy development is neglect — the mere absence of responsiveness from a parent or caregiver. Researchers have found that neglect can do more long-term harm to a child than physical abuse. Too much attention, however, may also be a problem as children don’t learn how to engage themselves.

8. Early Intervention

  • It’s well known that the years prior to age six and especially prior to age three are when a child’s brain is the most malleable and sensitive. The effect of the environment, therefore, has greater impact during this time. Most of the money we spend on children in this age group is spent on pre-school. The vital capacities children develop during this time are difficult to measure, unlike letter and number recognition. Since parents and caregivers are responsible for the environment, this is where we should direct our resources, but most of us are uncomfortable doing so.`
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