By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. What are your thoughts on preschool? Are very young children better off constantly interacting with a dedicated adult parent to stimulate their brain growth, or is there a benefit to socializing them with their peers at an early age? What’s the optimum balance of this for raising an intelligent yet independent and socially adept child?

A. How fortunate you are if you have a choice! And yet what a sense of responsibility!
Most parents in the United States today have no choice, and must work in order to be able to provide for their families. Because of the decline in real wages over the past decade, most single and two-parent families need all adults to bring in paychecks. While quality child care is hard to find and harder to pay for, it may be harder still to do without a parent’s salary. Some families find, though, that with two or more children under age 4, there’s no choice but for a parent to stay home. For others, friends and relatives are the only solution.

Early Head Start (for infants and children to age 3) and Head Start have been the salvation of many families, although for decades there have been no openings for the vast majority of eligible families. Finally new funding is on its way to make room for more children in these high-quality and proven programs.

To our knowledge, there are no actual studies that compare the brain development of children in preschool to children who spend their days at home with a dedicated adult parent. Such a study would be difficult to conduct both because the specific experiences in individual homes and preschools can vary so much and because there are so many other variables that influence brain development, including pregnancy, health, nutrition, air and water quality, and genetics.

What we do know is that high-quality early childhood education has been proven to save up to $17 for every dollar it costs because it leads to better academic success, fewer special education expenditures, greater chances for employment and productivity, and less risk of ending up in jail.

Quality criteria include a low child-teacher ratio, a high level of formal training in child development and education for teachers, positive relationships between teachers and parents, and meaningful parent involvement.

There is no evidence that such high-quality experiences can’t also be provided by dedicated and caring parents for children at home. Positive learning and growing may occur in either setting.

Since most parents don’t have a choice, and are either at home or at work because they must be, we’d hate to make them feel guilty about either option. What matters most is the quality of the child’s experience. Whether the child is at home or at preschool, parents and children need enough time together to continue to grow closer and to deepen their understanding and appreciation of one another. And children at home will still need abundant opportunities to be with peers to learn from them, with them and through their interactions.

Parents may feel overwhelmed by the responsibility that the “new brain science” may seem to impose on them to stimulate their children’s brain development – quick, in a hurry – before it is too late. The reality is that while the human brain never grows and develops more rapidly and dramatically than in the first three years of life, children’s most important learning experience will not come from videos or computer programs but from interactions with those who care about them most – parents, teachers, siblings and peers.

Parents are children’s first and most important teachers not because they teach the alphabet, shapes and colors but because they encourage and motivate children’s curiosity and enthusiasm to learn. Parents help children to take in as much as they can learn from their environment by gently buffering them from more stimulation than they can handle. Early on, children teach their parents how to read their cues so that together they can work toward this balance.

The foundations for learning are laid down before kindergarten in the context of children’s interactions with adults and with each other. We have known for decades that the key to school readiness and becoming a lifelong learner lies in the early experiences that help develop important qualities such as persistence, perseverance, curiosity, the capacity to tolerate frustration and the self-esteem to keep on trying even after making a mistake.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Dr. Brazelton, prior to his passing, was the founder and head of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is currently the Director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.


By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. We have read “Touchoints” cover to cover. We keep our tattered and torn copy on the coffee table for easy access, but we are at a loss.

Up until a week ago, our 25-month-old daughter was the “perfect child” – our pediatrician often asks to adopt her if we tire of her! She has always has been able to self-soothe and go to sleep on her own. She is not having any problems at nap time (noon-2 p.m.) She eats fairly well, is active and well ahead of the curve in her language skills.

Last week, she started a pattern of not being able to/wanting to go to sleep in the evening (7:45-8 p.m.). We keep a very regular schedule and bedtime routine (bath, brush teeth, books in the rocking chair and then bed).

Now, we are having to actually get her into a sound sleep and when we finally get her to sleep, she experiences long spells of night waking – anywhere from one to four hours of screaming, crying, pleading with us to rock her, hold her, take her to our bed, stay in her room, rub her back, etc.

She’s not waking regularly at 10 p.m., 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., but rather wakes once and can not/will not go back to sleep. She repeatedly is crawling out of her crib. It is almost more than we can take to allow her to be in such a state.

A. At what time of night do these awakenings occur? Night terrors usually occur during the first few hours of sleep, while nightmares tend to occur in the last hours of sleep, in the early morning.

During night terrors, children are not really awake or conscious. They’ll suddenly sit bolt upright in bed and let out blood-curdling shrieks. Inconsolable, they often become more agitated when parents try to talk to them or comfort them. The best bet is to stay out of their way, if they are safe, and let them fall back to sleep on their own. They’ll have no memory for the event, since they never really were awake, even though it seems as if they are.

Nightmares, on the other hand, really are dreams, and children usually can remember them, and when they’re old enough to speak, talk about them.

Does your child really keep screaming for 4 hours even if you do hold her, stay with her, or bring her into your bed? It does sound as if she is conscious – not having night terrors – if she is pleading with you to stay with her and comfort her.

At 25 months, she is a little young to be having the kinds of nightmares that 3- and 4-year olds have when they begin to become aware of their own aggressive feelings and begin to scare themselves.

It sounds as if this has only been going on for about a week, but if it has persisted, we would suggest you consult with your pediatrician, who might refer you to a pediatric sleep expert.

Have there been any recent changes or stressors for your family? Her new resistance to going to bed, and her new demands for you to stay close during the night, raise the possibility that something has happened that has frightened her and makes her more hesitant to separate from you.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Dr. Brazelton, prior to his passing, was the founder and head of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is currently the Director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center.  Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.


By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. Our 2-year-9-month-old son was potty trained relatively easy during the day at 2 and 1/2 years old. However, he is still in a diaper at night. He wet his bed for several days in a row when we tried to put him in underwear at night, and now he awakes with a very wet diaper since we’ve switched him back into a diaper at night. How do we try to help him stay dry at night, or wake up to go to the bathroom at night?

A. He may not be ready – yet. Patience and time may be what he needs most for now. But the “very wet diaper” makes us wonder how much he is drinking in the evening before going to bed. As long as he is getting enough fluids during the day, you can cut back on fluids after supper. If he doesn’t mind, ask him to try urinating once at bedtime and then one extra time before going to bed. If he does mind, don’t bother – the struggle will do more harm than good. In my practice, I found that some children would stop wetting at night if their parents roused them at about 10 p.m. just enough to urinate before returning immediately back to bed.

The most important thing you can do right now, though, is to back off, avoid making a big deal of it (which includes holding off on any unwelcome “help”) and let him know that when he’s ready, he’ll manage just fine. (See our book, “Toilet Training: The Brazelton Way,” Da Capo Press, 2004, for more information.)

Q. My 5 and 1/2 year old daughter constantly forgets to wipe, wash, and flush. What advice do you have?

A. Is this a new problem, or is this something she’s never yet mastered? If this is a change in her behavior, we would wonder about what might have prompted it – for example, some physical condition such as a rash or infection that might make wiping painful, or some experience that has frightened her and led her to try to avoid this area as much as possible. In this case, we would encourage you to bring this up with your child’s pediatrician.

If this is the way it’s always been, and otherwise her development has been entirely typical, our guess would be that she will learn to master this – when she is ready and when this really begins to matter to her. In the meantime, if this is one small expression of her overall temperament – a little girl who is under a head of steam, often in a rush, only halfway through one activity and then she’s on to the next before – you’re likely to do better by accepting this and helping her to accept her own temperament. This will help her to know she can turn to you to understand herself and for help when she begins to be bothered by some of her own shortcomings and is ready to work on them. (If she has difficulty following through with a much wider range of tasks in a number of different settings, it might be worth looking into what might be distracting her. Your pediatrician could help.)

She’s already shown you that reminders won’t work. Do they feel like nagging to her? They’re bound to if she hasn’t asked for them. And she won’t until she is able to recognize and accept that she needs help, and that you can offer it to her without embarrassing her. Of course you don’t mean to. But she’ll be more comfortable with your help when she’s ready for it. You might try sitting down with her in a calm moment when this isn’t the immediate issue. Let her know that you know you’ve been bugging her with your reminders and that they haven’t helped. Ask her if she would like your help. If she says no, then let her know you’ll be ready to offer it when she’s ready to ask for it. Then, drop it. If she says yes, then ask her what kind of help would work better for her than your reminders.

Some parents may feel that this approach gives a child too much control – but in areas where no parent can control a child, the best a parent can do is to help a child discover her own motivation, and to harness that motivation for her to be in control of herself. Others might suggest a reward system – some little token for every flush. There’s probably not much harm in that, except that it could still easily become your issue, rather than hers – a setup for struggles that might just reinforce the problem.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Dr. Brazelton, prior to his passing, was the founder and head of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is currently the Director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.


By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. I am an educator and I’m currently working with a kindergartner with what could best be described as extreme ADHD.

She is currently on Ritalin which has allowed her to increase her attention span. However, it seems the medication makes her moody, tired and melancholy.
Ritalin also seems to greatly alter her personality. She seems almost depressed when she is on the drug.

Are there any interventions that would be helpful in such a case? Her parents seem receptive to advice and would really love to help this little girl.

A. We certainly can’t offer diagnoses or treatment recommendations from such a distance, but can offer some general information in response to your observations, questions and concerns that will no doubt resonate with educators and parents across the country.

Because there still is no definitive objective test for diagnosing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), doctors making this diagnosis must rely on careful observation of children’s behavior in their offices as well as thorough reports from teachers and parents.

ADHD is probably over-diagnosed in some settings, and under-diagnosed in others, but either way, there is clearly room for error. There is good evidence that stimulant medication is an effective treatment for ADHD, but when it is not, it is important to go back to the drawing board to be sure that ADHD is the correct diagnosis, and whether or not it is the only one.

Many children are very, very active without tipping over into hyperactivity. This distinction can be difficult to make unless the hyperactivity is truly extreme.

In young children, there is a wide range in the ability to sit still and concentrate in the classroom setting, and indeed, we are asking more and more compliance with traditional academic demands at earlier and earlier ages, despite the fact that there is no reason to believe that children’s capacities to handle these have started developing at earlier ages. (In fact, there may be some conditions in our world today that make it harder for some children to attend and focus. For example, one study found a correlation between long hours of television watching in children under age 3 with symptoms of attention difficulties at age 7, although a cause and effect link could not be made by the researchers.)

Excessive physical activity, fidgeting and restlessness, trouble concentrating, being easily distracted and impulsive behavior all are symptoms of ADHD. Yet they also can be more general signs of distress in young children. Just as fever suggests an infection without telling us what the cause of the infection is, these behaviors in young children may signal a range of other conditions, including anxiety, a mood disorder or even post traumatic stress in a child who has been abused or traumatized in some other way.

Stimulants such as Ritalin (methylphenidate) can bring about clear improvements, noticeably increasing attention and concentration, and decreasing hyperactivity. Sometimes, though, a child does begin to appear down, or even depressed when taking these medications.

They can interfere with sleep, which might also be a cause for sleepiness and moodiness during the day. A switch to a different preparation (short or long-acting, for example) or kind of stimulant (dexedrine, for example, rather than methylphenidate) sometimes can help with either of these side effects, although there are some children who just won’t be able to tolerate these medications.

If the Ritalin is stopped and the melancholy moodiness continues, there may be another problem that needs careful assessment. If parents express concerns that line up with yours, they may accept your suggestion to turn to a child psychiatrist, if they haven’t done so already, to address these specific questions about possible side effects, other treatment options and diagnostic reassessment.

While there now are studies that show that medication alone can be more effective than cognitive-behavioral treatments alone for ADHD, there are also a number of other measures to try that may be helpful. In the classroom, a child who is easily distracted and has trouble attending should be seated close to the teacher, and positioned so that all of the other children wiggling and jiggling are out of her line of sight. This must be done without making her feel singled out or humiliated – self-esteem all too often suffers in children with ADHD. It is also helpful to give such children regular, gentle reminders to tune back in again: The teacher can work out a private signal with the child that helps the child to feel special and valued rather than to stand out as the “trouble” child.

Reminders and disciplines should be framed positively and with hope, since these children often need so many that they will soon tune out anything that sounds like nagging to protect themselves from feeling worse and worse about themselves. Special chores that allow them to work off steam, like getting up to sharpen the pencils, or pass out supplies, or to deliver the attendance list to the principal’s office can also help honor such children’s need for extra activity. These children often need frequent encouragement, praise and rewards, as it can be as hard for them to sustain their own motivation and keep themselves on track independently.

Careful and respectful back and forth sharing between parents and teachers can help create a more seamless experience of rewards and reminders for the child as she adapts each day to transitions between school and home. The long-term goal is for the child to understand and accept herself so that she can become increasingly independent in coping with and overcoming her challenges. For parents and teachers to help with this, they too will need to understand and accept.

For more information:
Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s website

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Dr. Brazelton, prior to his passing, was the founder and head of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is currently the Director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.


By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Things are so tough these days that most of us are ready to do our part to make our country strong again.

Everyone’s worried about the economy, health care, the environment, and safety in a dangerous world. With unemployment and the economic crisis in our homes and around the corner, we can’t hide adult fears and struggles from our children, but we can show them what we can do, what they can do to help.

THE ECONOMY: Our current problems are complicated, but we know that greed, selfishness, irresponsibility and wasteful self-indulgence have not helped.

Young children struggle with conflicting wishes to hoard all the goodies for themselves, and to share them with those they care about. We adults can model a different set of values and behaviors: being thankful for what we have and for being able to share it with those who have less; spending a little less now to save a little more; going along with what’s fair even if there’s no one to catch us if we don’t. Opportunities for learning these simple but important lessons occur every day and in family rituals:

Once a week, each family member can give something to someone who needs it more, by helping out an elderly neighbor, inviting a family going through unemployment over for dinner, volunteering in a shelter or soup kitchen, or putting a dime or quarter in a jar to save up for a cause the whole family cares about. (See donorschoose.org or habitat.org for ways your family can make a difference in your community, or around the country.)

Allowances: Even though money is tight, a regular allowance – no matter how small (a nickel a week gives the same message as a dollar) – can help children learn to make smart decisions about limited resources, and to save now and be glad they did later.

THE ENVIRONMENT: It’s bigger than all of us, and may seem too big to a child to be able to doing anything about. Yet there are small ways that each of us can help.

As a family, start saving up now for a tree to plant. Learn about the kind of trees that are best suited for your neighborhood, those that absorb the most excess carbon in the air while using the least amount of water. When it’s time, you can pick it out and plant it together.

Help your children remember that they can save water by turning off the faucet each time that they brush their teeth. (See charitywater.org for other ways you can help.)

HEALTH CARE: Our nation’s health care crisis is also too big for any of us to solve alone. But each of us can do our part by doing our best to stay healthy, the earlier the better. A healthy diet, plenty of exercise, simple safety precautions (like seat belts and bike helmets), and balancing out stress with family times to laugh and relax together can make a big difference.

Healthy nutrition can be simple:

  • Eat more vegetables.
  • Eat less processed food, fried food, fast food, and soft drinks.
  • Enjoy what you eat, and take the time to savor it slowly while enjoying being together as a family.
  • Keep the TV off at mealtimes.
  • No grazing between meals, no eating in cars or on your feet.

EXERCISE: Limit TV to an hour a day, and computer time to an hour a day (except for homework). Walk or bike whenever you can, or use public transportation. This can be your family’s contribution to saving our planet’s health too.

SAFETY PRECAUTIONS: See the safekids.org to help keep your children safe, and to protect yourselves, for their sake and yours.

Safety in a dangerous world is another challenge that may seem too big for children to tackle. But adults may have something to learn from them.

Recently, a preschool teacher asked each child at circle time what he or she had done for winter vacation, but skipped the child sitting closest to her. The children took this seriously, and reminded her not to leave anybody out. One child asked, “What about Remy? He’s sick today. We’ll have to ask him too.”

Very young children naturally work to include each other, to help children with special challenges find their roles, and belong.

Much violence comes from hatred passed across generations, and fear that scarce survival resources like food and water will not be fairly shared. What can parents and children do?

Look at a globe and pick out one country, one your children have never heard of. Go to the library or on the Internet to learn about its people. Is there some small way that you all can get to know them? Is there a school, hospital, or orphanage that you can get to know?

See if you can find a trustworthy organization that you can support to provide clean water, food, medical care, teachers. (You might want to check out Amigos de las Americas, Mil Milagros, Oxfam, Partners in Health, Peace is Loud, Save the Children, Unicef and others. We’re sure many of our readers are involved with terrific organizations that help other families here and abroad. We’d love to hear about them.)

Children can become pen pals, or send drawings when language is a barrier. They can help bring peace one friendship at a time.

All of these problems and solutions are interconnected. What each of us can do may seem small, but when we act together as a nation, we are powerful. We can model values that will endure through the bubbles and bursts. We can keep ourselves healthy and strong, saving health care resources for illness that can’t be prevented. We can protect our planet so that we can be sure to have enough energy, water, and food for all of us.

Times are tough, but we can teach our children to do their part for change.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Dr. Brazelton, prior to his passing, was the founder and head of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is currently the Director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.



By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. My soldier son has just deployed to Iraq for his second tour of duty. His wife and three sons, ages 9 to 2 1/2, live at Ft. Hood, Texas. I want to add something that has helped our family: Web cams and computer speakers. We gave them to our daughter-in-law and our son during his last tour of duty and we have sent him a new set for this deployment. As soon as our son has his set up and running, they will be able to see and talk to each other via the Internet.

This makes a tremendous difference for spouses and children caught up in this war. The 2 1/2 year-old cries more for his dad that the others because he doesn’t understand what has happened. He just knows that his dad flew away in a plane with other soldiers. We tell him that his dad will come back. He does understand that.

A. Thank you for your great ideas and for the help they will be for all families with loved ones deployed overseas. Certainly Web cams and the Internet can be a great help in keeping families in touch. Maybe you can even record some of these special moments so that the children can go over and over them.

I have recommended leaving several DVDs or videotapes of parents reading bedtime stories so that children can be lulled to sleep by parents who are too far away to tuck them in. Your youngest grandchild may find comfort in a piece of Daddy’s clothing as a “lovey” to cuddle and to fall back on when he’s upset or frightened. Even his smell may be comforting at such a time. He is certainly old enough to sense the distress his mother must feel — another reason for his tears.

Of course a worried family member can’t hide such feelings. Instead they can be explained simply in terms that very young children can understand: “Mommy misses Daddy. I know you do too.”

The older children can be suffering because they do understand too well the separation issues as well as the dangers. Although they may seem under control on the surface, they deserve special times with their mother to unload their feelings, their questions, and to share her sadness. They also certainly need to have a chance for their own concerns to be heard. They will be relieved to speak openly but may also feel proud that through this sharing they are helping her. For the most mature children, and for adults, the terror of losing a military family member is all the worse with the current uncertainty about what this war could possibly accomplish and how it will ever end.

Family meals become even more important now. The family can pray together for their father’s safety and quick return. Then, too, they can share their feelings as a family, “We all miss him terribly and need to see his face and hear his voice.” Meanwhile, each of the boys will learn most from the mother’s strengths and her ability to share those — and her moments of vulnerability — with them.

If we can give anything to children who must suffer in this dreadful war, it will be the sense of having made it through the trauma of separation and loss and of learning how to be resilient. We pray with you that your son returns safely, and wish that all of our brave men and women could.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Dr. Brazelton, prior to his passing, was the founder and head of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is currently the Director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

Early Language Matters

Early Language Matters

Early Language Matters by Louise Packness

In an undergraduate communications class I was taking at Hunter College in NYC, many years ago, we were shown videos of Washoe the chimpanzee learning American Sign Language. (ASL) I was mildly interested in attempts to determine primates’ ability to learn language. But my real focus in these videos and in this class was American Sign Language itself.

I was taken with how “expressive” I found the visual-gestural language of the Deaf community. Peoples’ facial expressions were animated. There were large and small, fast and slow gestures and body movements. Eye contact was vital. I became consumed with questions about different forms of language. Could it be that a language that was expressed visually was somehow more “honest”, more “direct”? Certainly I had experienced misuse of spoken language: twisting of phrases and words; verbal manipulation of a sort. Could ASL use by-pass abuse of speech and more easily get to the heart of an issue? I felt compelled to explore this issue. I already loved language related learning, I.e., foreign languages, the origin of language, how languages change over time – and the nitty gritty of speech sound production as well as grammar and morphology and syntax.

I went on to graduate school and became a Teacher of the Deaf. I got my answer. ASL can be used in a manipulative way just the same way a spoken language can be. A visual gestural language may look more “immediate” and “‘direct” – “honest “if you will. But ASL is a full and true language; it follows rules, has exact vocabulary, word meanings, sentences and syntax and it is entirely possible to be false and manipulative in the visual-gestural form as well as the spoken language.

In my deaf education teacher training, the question of language acquisition for deaf and hard of hearing children born in to a hearing world came to the forefront. How do deaf children learn language and how do they learn to think? I went to study language acquisition of both deaf and hearing children and speech language development has been my professional work for 35 years.

In general conversation, we often talk about communication and language interchangeably. They absolutely overlap; communication is a form of language and language is a part of communication, but they are not entirely the same.

Communication starts the moment a baby is born. It is about connecting emotionally with other living beings. We humans are hard-wired to make and find comfort in these connections and we are born with a set of innate emotional expressions and an instinctive understanding of other people’s emotions. We express joy, sadness, fear, disgust, interest, surprise anger, affection and more, and recognize them in others.

These early non-verbal connections are shared through vocalizations, facial expressions, and physical movements. Adults and babies engage in looking at each other, copying each other, taking turns on an emotional level – interactions known as “serve and return”. They are recognized by psychologists as important in shaping brain architecture in powerful ways, and helping to create a strong foundation for future learning. These interactions, conversations back and forth of sounds, gestures, facial expressions, tones of voice, eye-contact, posture and use of space give the young child a sense of belonging and are important to both partners.

Verbal communication, language, is also hard wired in the brain.
It is a rich, complex, adaptable system with rules; it is the way in which we combine sounds, create words and sentences in speech, signs and later writing to communicate our thoughts and understand others.

Verbal language provides us with the tools to know what we think and want, and understand others’ thoughts and wants. We need language to socialize and learn. Through both communication and language, we are able to learn new information, engage in rich pretend play, solve problems, ponder, invent, imagine new possibilities, and develop literacy.
Verbal language develops over time and follows universal, developmental milestones. Children learn at different rates, but there is a critical period in which a child must experience and develop language for it to develop fully.

None of us remember how we learned language. For the child with no interfering cognitive or physical challenges it seems that it simply happens. It is “caught” not “taught”. It is “caught” when a child is immersed in a world with caring adults who talk and interact and engage with this child. The particular language – or languages – a child masters is the one that the child experiences and has the opportunity to practice.

Language learning requires no tools or training – only these conversations.
When we say that early language matters it is the early, emotionally attuned engagement between adults and young children that matter.

When an interested adult is fully attending, talking and listening – making it easy for the young child time to start conversations; responding with interest to what the child is expressing with or without words, talking about those things the child is interested in at a level the child can understand, having conversations that go back and forth a number of times – these behaviors promote the natural development of language.

My work has been with children with special needs who have speech and language delays and disorders. For these children specialized early intervention is extremely important. The earlier the better to take advantage of a young child’s developing body and brain.

For the typically developing child, however, if language develops easily and naturally, what can interfere??

How strong children’s language skills are affected by their surroundings. Challenging environmental circumstance, such as food insecurity, poor housing, lack of health care, no access to books make a difference in the young child’s development; an adult, parent or caretaker who is not able to sustain attention or be attuned to the child makes a difference in the child’s development. When the adult is highly distracted – perhaps by troubling personal concerns or the ever-increasing interruptions caused by technology; i.e., needing to check Face Time, take a phone call, look at Instagram, check notifications, etc., the child is adversely impacted. The tremendous value of on-going conversations gets lost with many interruptions. Being aware of the factors that are challenging, we can begin to address them.

The early conversations are what matter. They say that a good conversation is like a good seesaw ride; it only happens when each partner keeps taking a turn.

Louise Packness,
Speech-Language Pathologist, M.A. CCC-SLP

Books and Resources for Early Language Matters

American Speech-Language Hearing Association: articles and books. Including:
– Activities to Encourage Speech and Language Development
– How Does your Child Hear and Talk?
– Apel, Ken & Masterson, Julie, J. Beyond Baby Talk: From Sounds to Sentences – A Parents Complete Guide to Language Development, 2001

Early Years Foundation Stage, (EYFS) Statutory Framework- GOV.UK
2021 Development Matters in the Early Years.

Eliot, Lise, What’s Going On in There? : Bantam Book, 1999

Galinsky, Ellen. Mind in the Making: Harper-Collins, 2010

The Hanen Centre Publications. Helping You Help Children Communicate.
– Manolson, Ayala, It Takes Two To Talk: The Hanen Early Language Program ,1992
– Parent Tips
– “Tuning In” to others: How Young Children Develop Theory of Mind

Lahey, Margaret. Language Disorders and Language Development: Macmillan Publishers, 1998

Lund, Nancy & Duchan, Judith. Assessing Children’s Language in Naturalistic Contexts: Prentice-Hall, 1988

National Association for the Education of Young Children (NYAEC)
– Reinforcing Language Skills for Our Youngest Learners by Claudine Hannon
– 12 Ways to Support Language Development for Infants and Toddlers by Julia Luckenbill
– Big Questions for Young Minds, Extending Children’s Thinking. 2017

Princeton Baby Lab. A Research Group in the Dept. of Psychology at Princeton studies how children learn, and how their incredible ability to learn support their development. 2022 babylab@princeton.edu

Pruett, Kyle,D: Me, Myself and I: Goddard Press, 1999

Ratey, John,J. A User’s Guide to the Brain, Vintage Books, 2001 : 253-335.

Rossetti, Louis,M: Communication Intervention, Singular Publishing, 1996

Siegel, Daniel J,& Hartzell, Mary. Parenting from the Inside Out: Penguin Group 2003

Presence and Perspective


Presence and Perspective By Murielle DiBiase, M.D.

In the chaos of the world we are living in today I find the challenge that rises to the top of my heap across settings and interactions with others of all ages is to be present and consider the perspectives of others. We are so inundated with the stressors of everyday living complicated with all of the Covid chaos that it’s a true challenge to stay in the moment and even consider the perspectives of others.

In my work in the field of Early Care and Education, I have many opportunities to engage with families, children, professional colleagues, teachers, and a wide variety of support staff involved as educators in this phenomenal field. We know that parents/family are children’s first “teachers”. Everyone involved in the classroom dynamics has an impact on the foundation of learning for each child in their care. We are all “cognitive coaches”, incidentally as well as intentionally, for every child we connect with, even for those we come to know in utero. It’s simply amazing to consider that the first 3 years of our lives are known to be the time in our lives that we will learn at an extraordinary pace like no other time in our entire lives. This, to me, magnifies the importance of intentionally being present as much as we possibly can across settings and ages for all to truly benefit from the interaction.

As I engage in the work of coaching educators to elevate the quality of their engagement with children, there are frequent conversations about taking a child’s perspective in the moment given any number of daily situations we encounter. As adults, we often make unintentional assumptions about children’s perspectives… “When you push your chair away from the table, you’re telling me you’re all done with snack.” (said to an 18 month old) I had to wonder if that was so or was this child merely experimenting with cause and effect given the moment… Just as unintentionally, we often forget that young children are just beginning to understand their world and are learning things like self-regulation. They are truly novices at social engagement and are new to the concept of emotions. They learn what they are living with no regard to “right or wrong” ideations at such a young age. Understanding a young child’s perspective is key to quality engagement. The more we learn, the more we are able to support learning for our youngest human beings.

This is all food for thought, which might shift our perspectives a bit. We don’t know what we don’t know and we do the best we can with what we do know at any given time in our lives. Thank goodness we have a lifetime to learn and grow and there are so many opportunities for us to do so! Learning is a work in progress, not an aim for perfection…

Favorite Resources:

Ted Talks : Jun Li, Fred Rogers (Google these individuals for more resources)

Brazelton Touchpoints Center
Connection Parenting, Pam Leo (Google her for more resources to her credit)

Creative Connections LLC
Murielle S. DiBiase, M.Ed.
PO Box 15
Palermo, Maine 04354

Polyvagel Theory

Eye Contact with baby

Polyvagel Theory By Mark Rains, Ph.D.

How can parents help soothe stress in infants and build their capacity for attachment, self-regulation, social engagement, and resilience? Of all the many ways to understand this, one article that transforms how we look at relationships and stress response systems is “Neuroception” by Stephen Porges1. Published in Zero to Three in 2004, it remains timely; applicable to current problems with traumatic or “toxic” stress, childhood protective factors, and prenatal substance exposure, as well as classic infant mental health challenges with temperament, attachment, parenting, etc. It also introduces concepts of personal and social stress management that support coping with the psychosocial and professional challenges of COVID care.

Neuroception involves how the brain senses safety or threat through (primarily) visual, auditory, and tactile cues in the social environment and organizes responding. A complementary article by Porges, also in Zero to Three [1993], focuses on Interoception2, a “sixth sense” response to internal physiological cues. Both social and internal inputs are linked via the vagus nerve to multiple response systems. The multiple roles of this nerve and its contribution to Social Engagement Systems of parents and infants are elaborated within a Polyvagal Theory of stress response3.

Basically, polyvagal theory refers to (1-6):

  1. the general variety of inputs and outputs of the ventral (front) and dorsal (back) branches of the vagus nerve in the parasympathetic Autonomic Nervous System (ANS),
  2. the involvement of the ventral branch of the vagus in communicating (receiving and expressing) cues of safety and threat within interactions in the Social Engagement (i.e. Safe to Friend 4) System.
    In conditions of safety, the ventral vagus regulates the ups and downs of:
  3. mobilization without fear for action (waking, food gathering, defense, etc) by inhibiting and disinhibiting the sympathetic arousal branch of the ANS, especially heart function, and
  4. immobilization without fear for physical maintenance (sleeping, digesting, lactation, intimacy, illness recovery, etc.) by dorsal branch of the vagus and release of oxytocin.
    In conditions of significant or life-threatening stress:
  5. mobilization with anger/fear leading to dominance of ventral vagus by sympathetic arousal and limbic system overriding cortex (“losing your head”), i.e. Fight/Flight systems OR
  6. immobilization with fear involving physical shutdown by dorsal branch of vagus nerve, i.e. Freeze/Faint systems, going into shock, loss of blood pressure, etc.

In other words, with safety the parasympathetic ventral vagus nerve regulates both the sympathetic ANS and the parasympathetic dorsal vagus, as it balances waking and sleeping, gathering food and digesting it, engaging socially and withdrawing for reflection, energetic sexual activity and safe intimacy, child protection and lactation, etc. When this homeostatic balance is overwhelmed and sympathetic ANS or dorsal vagus is unregulated, an individual is vulnerable to physical and/or mental health problems.

Health and resilience involve accurate sensitivity to threat cues and flexibility in response. Problems result when persons see threat in safe situations and miss threat in stressful situations and/or when their mobilization or immobilization with anger or fear is chronic and less flexible. Polyvagal theory adds another lens to viewing current problems in self- and social-regulation: the importance of safety, the role of social engagement system in communicating and managing safety, and dysregulation that follows lack of safety.

The Social Engagement System develops within the attachment relationship between infant and parent and continues through adult interactions. Social engagement involves muscles of face and head, available in infancy, before development of extremities.

Following are some of the highlights:

Social Engagement

with Safety

(higher vagal tone, more flexibility)
• Make eye contact
• Display contingent facial expressions
• Vocalize with appealing inflection and rhythm
• Modulate middle-ear muscles to distinguish human voice more efficiently
• Problem solve
• Safe Touch, Massage
• All the above contribute to Attachment and to Soothing stress before it becomes toxic


with Danger

(lower vagal tone, less variability)
• Eyelids droop
• Positive facial expressions dwindle
• Voice loses inflection
• Awareness of human voice is less acute
• Sensitivity to others’ social engagement behaviors decreases
• Chest (crisis) breathing

Porges (2004)

There is a YouTube video that depicts the role of social engagement system in soothing stress and relationship development https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=zcz2Towvf8A. Spoiler alert: It portrays a father attempting to comfort the cries of his infant daughter. Their facial expressions mirror as he becomes stressed and she continues to fuss. He contacts her mother by cellphone where she is shopping in a grocery store and mother tries a variety of attempts to connect with and entertain her daughter via the cellphone screen, unsuccessfully. A grandmotherly figure in the grocery store appears to wonder, “What is going on here? How ridiculous to think technology could replace human interaction.” Nothing works.

The father then picks up his daughter with safe touch, brings her up to make eye contact with his safe face; all of which soothes her upset and catches her interest, and they eventually calm and connect. Its poignancy brings tears to mother’s eyes, perhaps gratified to see father and daughter’s capacity to join her in parenting. Both father and daughter were able to utilize their social engagement systems. Although it’s not clear that the producers of the video clip were thinking beyond “Technology will never replace love”, it seemed to me to illustrate social engagement well.

Polyvagal theory adds another lens to viewing current problems in self- and social-regulation. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a measurable biomarker of flexibility in ventral vagal regulation of heart function. Heart rate rises and falls with respiration. I won’t attempt to go into detail about this, beyond noting that it is one of the ways of studying the tone (high or low flexibility) of the ventral vagus in a variety of physical and mental health problems. Porges (2004) proposes that faulty neuroception (ability to switch effectively from defensive to social engagement strategies) may contribute to autism, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, depression, and Reactive Attachment Disorder. Infants may learn defensive behaviors with frightened or frightening caregivers, which may then be ineffective or costly within safe environments.

For example, in infants exposed prenatally to substances and experiencing withdrawal symptoms as neonates, sympathetic arousal may be dominant, resulting in difficulty with parasympathetic functions of eating and sleeping and being comforted.5 Caregiving within the Eat, Sleep, Console program6assists in regaining sympathetic/parasympathetic balance, supported by medication to manage sympathetic arousal. Massage has been helpful in vagal tone of premature infants, enabling better weight gain. 7

The social interaction and communication challenges associated with autism spectrum difficulties8 are another area of research on polyvagal theory where intervention increases eye contact, vocalization, and anxiety; sensitivity to stimulation, etc. It doesn’t cure autism, but addresses some of the challenges, which might lead to a vicious cycle of withdrawal, behavioral difficulties, etc.

Turning to the parental role in the social engagement system involves parents being able to regulate their own emotional state and sense of safety, in order to be a safe partner interacting with their child. After ensuring that the child’s “alert system” is not hyper- (“wired”) or hypo- (“tired”) aroused and that the child’s “alarm system” is not activated by internal (interoception) or psychosocial (neuroception) threats, a parent can communicate safety within the parent-child social engagement relationship by providing nonverbal (right brain) relationship cues and utilizing developmentally appropriate language (left brain).9 Synchrony in the parent and child social engagement systems supports resilience. As the child develops beyond infancy, neuroception of safety is needed for verbal communication or executive functioning to be successful. Infant mental health interventions can model and provide safe social engagement by therapists to support safe parent and child interaction.

Parallel to the experience of parents, providers of healthcare and social services experience both vulnerability and opportunities for resilience, managing exposure to stress, utilizing professional coping strategies, practicing personal self-care, and experiencing organizational support. In particular, social engagement through teamwork and mutual support can help maintain resilience and reduce feelings of unmanageable threat. Unfortunately, this has been limited during COVID, in which distancing and masking undermine social engagement opportunities. When such social connection is not available, individual practices can help ‘jump start’ vagal tone through a variety of portals to the ventral vagus nerve. These include:

  1. Confident (diaphragmatic) “belly-button-breathing” (e.g. four count inhalation and six count exhalation), which is an alternative to crisis (chest, up-and-down) breathing.
  2. Massage, safe touch, which renews vagal tone.
  3. Vocalization (e.g. singing, chanting), which can engage the cranial nerve regulating the trachea and, together with diaphragmatic breathing, stimulate the ventral vagus nerve.
  4. Auditory stimulation which renews the balance in sensitivity to voice frequencies that can be dysregulated after exposure to danger frequencies, e.g. with soothing music in the range of voice frequencies (e.g. classical stringed instruments) or specially programmed music (Safe and Sound Protocol10) to stimulate middle ear functioning and flexibility.

Using such vagal stimulation strategies to achieve or renew a parasympathetic state of Safe to Friend provides a foundation for confidence and other cognitive coping strategies. This is built into a series of “Resilience Stretches”, which help recover from, manage, and prepare for psychosocial stress; like physical stretches prepare for physical activity.11

Research into these areas is still at early stages in many respects, at promising to evidence-based levels. As polyvagal theory has gained popularity12 , interpreters (myself included) may stray from science or evidence base, promoting short cuts to social engagement with oxytocin, vagus nerve stimulation, quick fixes, etc. I recommend sticking close to the source and staying up to date with the evidence base.

Take Home / Take to Work points:

  • In addition to Fight/Flight and Freeze/Faint responses to
  • Adverse Experiences, there is a Safe To Friend system of social engagement to manage stress with resilience.
  • This system is ready to begin from birth and is developed within safe, stable, supportive attachment interactions and relationships.
  • Vulnerabilities in the Social Engagement System may contribute to a variety of physical and psychosocial health problems.
  • There are multiple portals to renew safety at a personal level of neuroception and interoception and at a social level of protective factors for parents and professionals
  • With professional/personal/organizational resources, Infant mental health specialists can bring their own social engagement systems to safe, healing, growthful, interactions with parents and children.
  • Ongoing research will contribute to better understanding of the potential and limits of the preceding points

  1.  Porges, SW. (2004) Neuroception: A Subconscious System for Detecting Threats and Safety.  Zero to Three, 24:5,19-24.  (Downloadable from www.stephenporges.com )
  2.  Porges, SW. (1993) The Infant’s Sixth Sense: Consciousness and Regulation of Bodily Processes. Zero to Three 14(2), 12-16. (Downloadable from www.stephenporges.com )
  3.  Porges SW (2017). The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe. New York: WW Norton.
  4.  There are a variety of abbreviations for describing the Social Engagement System in contrast to “Fight/Flight, Freeze/Faint” systems, e.g. Tend and Befriend, Rest and Refresh, Friend, etc.  I am proposing “Safe to Friend” as a psychophysiological state, which an individual may reach through social interaction or personal activities.
  5.  Jansson, LM, DiPiero, JA, Elko, A and Velez, M. (2010) Infant Autonomic Functioning and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Drug Alcohol Depend. 109(1-3): 198-204.
  6.  Grisham, L. et al. Eat, Sleep, Console Approach: A Family-Centered Model for the Treatment of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Adv Neonatal Care. 19(2):138-144.
  7.  Field, T. (2019). Pediatric Massage Therapy Research: A Narrative Review. Children (Basel), 6(6): 78.
  8.  Porges SW, Bazhenova OV, Bal E, Carlson N, Sorokin Y, Heilman KJ, Cook KH, Lewis GF. (2014). Reducing Auditory Hypersensitivities in Autistic Spectrum Disorder: Preliminary Findings Evaluating the Listening Project Protocol. Frontiers in Pediatrics. Doi:10.3389/fped.2014.00080
  9.  Rains, M. Contact mainerains@gmail.com for handout. Brief video illustrating Brain in Palm of Hand    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evikiqovSVw
  10. https://integratedlistening.com/ssp-safe-sound-protocol/
  11.  Rains, M. 2022. “Resilience Stretches” Contact mainerains@gmail.com for copy.
  12.  Porges SW & Dana D (2018).  Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies. New York: WW Norton.
  13.  See also a wide variety of YouTube videos featuring Stephen Porges.

Social Emotional Learning

Maine Association for Infant Mental Health

Social Emotional Learning

Social Emotional Learning (SEL), what is it? Why is this so important for growth and development within a child’s life, and why are schools, communities embracing this now as our world continues to go through changes. Some changes are known, and some are unknown as COVID continues to be present. I wanted to start off my writing with this poem that I feel captures SEL very well.

I am going to address the definition of SEL, the importance of SEL, myths of SEL, along with the impact of SEL for children and long-term effects of SEL and social development. Then I will finish with providing tools that can be useful in cross over into the classroom.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL): The set of skills, knowledge, and behaviors involved in understanding and managing emotions, setting positive goals, feeling empathy for others, engaging in relationships, and solving problems. Through SEL both students and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to manage their emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, reciprocate empathy for others, and make thoughtful decisions. These are crucial life skills.

There are 5 components of SEL which are, social- awareness, self-awareness, emotional management, responsible decision making and relationship skills that students need to succeed in every area and stage of their lives.

This is a collaborative relationship between students and adults as they acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to manage their emotions, achieve personal and collective goals, reciprocate empathy for others, and make thoughtful decisions which are the core concepts of CASEL, (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning). This requires teaching, and providing supports that can be utilized by educators, administrators, social workers, or anyone who is a part of a student’s life.

SEL focuses on the interconnectedness of school, family, and community to create environments that emphasize safe, trusting relationships and intentional curricula and instruction. SEL can build on issues around inequality and inspire young people and adults to have a voice and share their thoughts and feelings in continuing to foster healthy, thriving and equitable communities.

We all need authentic relationships that are trust worthy and build confidence in students to try new things, encourage open sharing of ideas, and to be themselves with their peers. This gives them permission to be who they are and feel that they matter.

Solid relationships are important for learning, as well as to provide healthy outlets for students to express negative emotions and feelings. The past 20 months living with COVID-19, we have all had feelings of depression, anxiety and restlessness triggered by COVID-19.

An understanding of SEL will help with building external relationships, though the most important relationship any student will develop at any point in their lives is the one they have with themselves.

SEL builds relationships using five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective and behavioral competencies, defined by CASEL.

These competencies are as follows: Self-awareness, social-awareness, relationship skills, self-management, and responsible decision-making. These can be used for any situations a school or community may be going through.

Self-Awareness: The ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose. Such as: • Integrating personal and social identities • Identifying personal, cultural, and linguistic assets • Identifying one’s emotions • Demonstrating honesty and integrity • Linking feelings, values, and thoughts • Examining prejudices and biases • Experiencing self-efficacy • Having a growth mindset • Developing interests and a sense of purpose.

Social-Awareness: The ability to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, & contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports. Such as: • Taking others’ perspectives • Recognizing strengths in others • Demonstrating empathy and compassion • Showing concern for the feelings of others • Understanding and expressing gratitude • Identifying diverse social norms, including unjust ones • Recognizing situational demands and opportunities • Understanding the influences of organizations/systems on behavior

Relationship-skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed. Such as: • Communicating effectively • Developing positive relationships • Demonstrating cultural competency • Practicing teamwork and collaborative problem-solving • Resolving conflicts constructively • Resisting negative social pressure • Showing leadership in groups • Seeking or offering support and help when needed • Standing up for the rights of other.

Self-Management: The ability to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation & agency to accomplish personal/collective goals. Such as: • Managing one’s emotions • Identifying and using stress-management strategies • Exhibiting self-discipline and self-motivation • Setting personal and collective goals • Using planning and organizational skills • Showing the courage to take initiative • Demonstrating personal and collective agency.

Responsible-Decision Making: The ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being. Such as: • Demonstrating curiosity and open-mindedness • Identifying solutions for personal and social problems • Learning to make a reasoned judgment after analyzing information, data, facts • Anticipating and evaluating the consequences of one’s actions • Recognizing how critical thinking skills are useful both inside & outside of school • Reflecting on one’s role to promote personal, family, and community well-being • Evaluating personal, interpersonal, community, and institutional impact. www.casel.or/what-is-SEL

There are also benefits to social emotional learning in the classroom which includes improvement in school and classroom climate, increases student motivation for learning, teaches problem-solving skills, helps student set and meet goals, and reduces behavioral issues in the classroom. These skills teach study skills and habits, along with opening the door to discuss more about mental health needs, and moving past thinking, “what is wrong with you”, to “what happened to you”. There are many more benefits to SEL and classroom climate.

An important skill that SEL teaches and encourages is empathy, (understanding what another person is feeling), as this builds on conscious decision making and if students can have a sense and understanding of other’s feelings and emotions, then negative responses can decrease, and positive response increase. This builds in having more of a compassionate, kind, school environment. The more that empathy can be present and modeled, the more children will see and begin to also choose these approaches. Being able to understand and show empathy, can help in decreasing acting out behaviors, and build on developing and growing a conscience for all children. There is research noted that the impact of social-emotional learning runs deep. SEL is shown to increase academic achievement and positive social interactions, and decrease negative outcomes later in life. These competencies help individuals throughout their lives. This study found that teaching social emotional learning to kindergarteners leads to students being less likely to live in public housing, receive public assistance, or to be involved in criminal justice system according to Child Trends.

SEL teaches young students how to cope with everyday disappointments as well as deep cuts of trauma. “Students can better respond to the effects of trauma by developing social-emotional competencies. The brain’s neuroplasticity makes it possible for repeated experiences to shape the brain and even reverse the effects of chronic stress,” says Susan Ward-Roncalli, a Social-Emotional Learning Facilitator for the Division of Instruction with the Los Angeles Unified School District. For our most at-risk students, who live in poverty and/or who may witness or experience traumatic experiences, SEL is an extraordinary tool for repairing the damage and for building lifetime coping skills.

There are many tools available for all grades to address social emotional learning and here are some websites that maybe helpful in building your library of social emotional learning tools.





Sel4Me | Registration & Login This is a great resource if you are teaching SEL in the class as there are options for every grade and videos to accompany the lesson.

What is nice about social emotional learning is that you can design a curriculum based on the needs of the classroom culture and build on each learning point. Taking each core competency and developing activities for each one will help children develop those skills and continue reinforcing from each grade to the next. It is encouraged to assess the culture of the classroom and structure your activities to address this culture and focus on building from these skills in developing new ones for your students.

Social Emotional Learning can be fun and rewarding as students are embracing their strengths, similarities and differences in building the best version of themselves, and we are all a part of this and can continue to be for a very long time.

Julia Macek, LCSW
Behavioral Health Specialist
Aroostook County Action Program