New Medical Science is Teaching Us About The Essential Impact of The First Weeks, Months, and Years of Life For Each Child

06/24/2017 01:16 pm ET

We can have a huge impact on the lives of our children in ways that were not well understood until very recently.

New medical science is teaching us that the first three months of life and the first three years of life have massive impact on the lives of children. Click here to visit threekeyyears.org.

We now know that we can cut strokes, heart attacks, asthma crisis, and even the rate of people going to prison hugely by doing the right things in those first months and first years of life for each child. Click here to read a key chapter from the book, The Art of InterGroup Peace, which deals directly with those issues and opportunities.

We now have insight into epigenetic science for our children that tells us we can predict future failure or future success for each child with amazingly high levels of accuracy at both three months and three years of age, based on basic biology anchored brain development processes that happen for each child in those immediate time frames that happen immediately after each child is born.

We used to believe that those first very first time frames were largely irrelevant to the development of each child — and we used to believe that education began at kindergarten.

We were completely wrong on both of those beliefs. Brain development starts at a very intense level slightly before birth — and the children who have the right experiences in those first weeks, months, and years have a major advantage over the children who do not have those same experiences. Children who are well nurtured, well comforted, and well fed in the first weeks and months of life have a very different brain infrastructure and basic sets of brain programming at 100 days compared to the children who were hungry and not fed and who were stressed and not comforted in those first days of life. Click here to visit threekeyears.org.

We now know from extremely powerful research that the children who have multiple adverse childhood experiences very early in life are more than twice as likely to have heart attacks, three times more likely to have strokes, and more than five times more likely to suffer from depression as adults compared to other adults who did not have the same numbers of Adverse Childhood Experiences in those time frames.

We also now know that the children who fell behind other children in learning levels by three years old are much more likely to never achieve basic reading levels and much more likely to never do well on basic mathematical ability scores as the children who are not behind in those areas at three years old.

We know that those children who fall behind by age three are far more likely to drop out of school — and we know that the children from all groups who drop out of school are far more likely to go to jail.

We know that African American males who graduate from high school have a one in ten chance of going to jail — and we know that more than 60 percent of the African American males in their thirties who dropped out of high school are actually in jail today.

Drop outs are more than six times more likely to go to jail than graduates — and we can predict with extremely high levels of accuracy at age three which students will drop out and which students will never graduate from school.

We can make that prediction about who will drop out of school with extreme accuracy at age three because modern medical science now knows and teaches us that the first three years of life are the years when the neurons connect in each child’s brain. We know that the children who do not have robust levels of neuron connections made in those years are far more likely to not be able to read or do the mathematics that will be needed to graduate from school.

The first three months of life are extremely important at an epigenetic level for the emotional grounding for each child — and the first three years of life are extremely important at a functional and structural biological level for the development of each child’s brain strength and learning ability.

The neuron connectivity time frames and the biological processes involved in making those neuron connections are the same for every child from every ethnicity, race, culture, or economic status. The differences we see in so many settings today between children by age three are based on functional experiences for each child — and they are not based on any other category of difference for each child.

Low-income children and high-income children who have the same set of direct interactions with adults in those weeks and months build their neuron connections in the same way regardless of their income level.

Some people say — incorrectly — that there is a direct link between economic status and the capabilities of children to learn. That statement is wrong because the link to learning levels for a child is not with anyone’s bank account — it is with their personal interaction levels that happen for each child from every group with adults in those key months and years.

Exercising muscles builds strong muscles — and exercising brains in those high impact time frames for each child from every group builds strong brains.

It does not take special equipment to exercise the brain of a child.

It is not difficult or complicated to exercise brains. Every parent from every group can strengthen their child’s brain.

Talking directly to a child exercises the child’s brain. Reading to a child is a very good way to exercise the brain. Playing and interacting directly in a supportive and directly responsive way with a child builds billions of neuron connections in a child’s brain.

Counting with children and teaching numbers to a child gives the child extremely important strength for important parts of the brain. Every parent from every group can talk to their children and millions and billions of neurons connect for their children every time talking happens for a child.

Too many children have no one talking to them today.

Too many children have very low levels of direct adult interactions in those key weeks, months and years — and too many children have very low levels of people talking, reading, playing, counting, and responding directly to the child in those time frames.

We know the consequences for children when those interactions do not happen for a child.

The children who have no one talking to them and who have no one interacting with them and who fall behind by age three have a very hard time catching up later. The children who fall behind have a hard time catching up later because the basic biological brain development process goes to a different set of functionalities for each child at age four.

At age four — the brain of each child actually goes through a pruning processes and that pruning process eliminates millions and billions of neuron connections that did not get used and exercised by having an adult talk, read, sing, respond, or play with the child in those first three years. Click here to view the video, “Nurturing Your Baby’s Brain.”

That is true for children from every group. It is much harder for a child to catch up on that basic set of capabilities after age four. Children can and do still make important, positive and highly beneficial progress in those areas after age four — but it is significantly more difficult to make that progress for a child after those first high impact months and years.

We have not done a good job of using that science to parents in a way that will allow parents to use that information to help their children. We have done a horrible job of teaching that information to all new parents in America. Teaching that information to parents and families should be our single most important public health campaign as a country and it is, instead, our biggest public health failure.

We should have our obstetricians, pediatricians, family physicians, nurses, care teams, hospitals, educators, community leaders, and families and friends all teaching that information to every new parent in America, and we need parents interacting with other parents and sharing that information with each other.

All parents love their children. All parents want their children to thrive and succeed. We have failed in teaching most parents extremely important and very basic ways that each parent can help improve the life of his or her child and help their children thrive at the most positive levels.

We need to have this agenda to help every child be an overarching priority for us all. We all need to understand clearly what the opportunities are for each child and we all need to understand the highest opportunity time frames for each child.

There are some obvious, much more enlightened and well informed public policy conclusions we can reach once we understand those time frames and that science.

Parental leave laws and parental leave benefits change from being a recovery time and a simple bonding time for parents into being an important epigenetic steerage tool for each child, if we do this right.

We need to broadly support parental leave in those first weeks and months of life because we now know from our new science the huge epigenetic and functional importance of those very first time frames for each child.

Parental leave — if it is done well — can create a huge and timely resource that can improve overall life trajectories for each child.

We need to protect and nurture every child in those extremely important post birth time frames.

That process of helping every child should include supporting breast-feeding whenever possible for each child. Breast-feeding is an almost perfect way of creating those needed linkages between Mother and Baby — and breast-feeding also creates the very best nutritional support, and the best disease protection levels for each child.

Several studies have shown that breast fed babies have several advantages and direct benefits that can last for a very long time for each child.

We need to create the right start for every child. We need to close the learning gaps in our schools by giving the right start to each child. We need all groups to make the commitment to support each other regarding the developmental opportunities that exist in those time frames for each child.

Click here to read Chapter Eleven from The Art of InterGroup Peace about both early brain support and basic population health campaigns that we should all support for each other as part of our strategy for inter group Peace in America.

We are failing far too many children today. Learning gaps in far too many American schools are massive and growing. We have failed in school after school to significantly close those gaps — and that failure happens because we really can’t close those gaps at 15 years. We need to close them at 15 months.

We need to close those gaps by not having them appear in the first place for our children. We can do that if we get everyone in every family and community to understand the needs and opportunities we have to help each child.

We have more people in prison than any country on the planet by a wide margin — and we know that more than 60 percent of the people in our prisons today can’t read. We can give every child a better start because the very wonderful new science is teaching us how to make a better start happen for each child.

The Harvard Center for the Developing Child is doing great work on all of these key areas of child development. Several star programs and wonderful researchers in other settings are also changing the way we think about early development for each child. Dr. Patricia Kuhl, Dr. Beatrice Beebe, and Dr. Ross Thompson at the University of Washington, Columbia University, and The University of California are all part of a golden age of research into children’s development that we need to somehow convey to parents. UCLA, Stanford, The University of Oregon, and a dozen other important academic centers are all going down these pathways to discover incredibly important information about the first weeks, months and years of life for our children.

Economists James Heckman and Aaron Sojourner have written very powerful pieces explaining the overwhelming economic benefits for society and for each child that arise from helping children in those initial time frames. That work to help each child in those high opportunity time frames would be worth doing if our only goal were to improve our economy as a country.

The most important reason to do that work is to help every child. The wonderful new epigenetic science tells us that each child has the genetic pathways to develop in very different directions depending very directly on what experiences the children have just before they are born and immediately after they are born. Now that we know that wonderful new science and now that we understand what those epigenetic realities mean for our children, it would be criminal, stupid, and a sin not to use that science in practical ways to help every child.

Let’s use them in wonderful and powerful ways for each and every child.

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