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

Q. My 4-year-old son is within the chart for normal growth and development. He speaks well for his age and is fine at preschool.

But I have this nagging observation about his lack of dexterity and confidence in motor skills such as broad jumping, catching a ball or climbing. He sometimes still holds the pen with the wrong grip and finds it challenging to tear a piece of paper along a straight line.

His 20-month-old brother has shown dexterity and motor skills ahead of his age.

A. A child’s feelings can be a first tipoff to a delay. Is your son frustrated by a lack of dexterity, or does he avoid physical activities? Frustration or lack of confidence may hamper the child more than the delay itself. Comparison with a sibling is hard, too. Even the impact of a minor delay on a child’s self-esteem can be aggravated by the growing pressure on children to perform in ways that, until recently, weren’t expected so young.

You might start by talking to your pediatrician, who can check for illness and help to sort out whether it’s an issue of muscle strength, tone or coordination.

If needed, the pediatrician can refer your son to an occupational therapist for assessment. Often a minor delay shows no root cause, but treatment and time for developmental catch-up can make a big difference.

Specific exercises and activities to solve the issue can be similar to play, making a child want to join wholeheartedly. If the treatment is made to seem like it’s for a problem, a child could resist help.

Often parents, and even professionals, forget to talk with young children about the reasons for tests and treatments. Talking about problems and solutions helps children to feel less alone and afraid, and more hopeful.

The discussion can focus on issues that bother a child: “You know how sometimes you get mad at yourself when you can’t jump as far as some of the other kids?” Or a parent might ask, “What are the things you can do that you are really proud of?” Then: “What would you like to improve?”

Some children may not be able to answer, but if they’ve already noticed their delay, it’s reassuring to know you want to help.

Once a challenge has been acknowledged, put it in perspective: “It’s not a big problem, but it bothers you – and that’s a good reason to work on it, especially since it can improve.”

Progress comes when children are motivated. They may have their own reasons to hold back, such as feeling self-conscious or fearing that other children will know what’s up (though they needn’t).

Or a child may feel so badly about the delay he denies it altogether. Such a child may accept help if he is offered chances to succeed in other areas, and recognized for his strengths.

When he agrees to treatment, let the successes be his. Someday he’ll understand that even if he remains less dexterous, he deserves far more recognition for the courage to face his challenges and the tenacity to overcome them.

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’m saddened by the increase in childhood obesity. But I find it difficult to be the parent of a thin, healthy child bombarded with low-fat advertising. Is it right to limit fats and other caloric nutrients in healthy children?

A. The U.S. childhood obesity rate is staggering, with all the associated risks for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other health problems.

Often we blame the victims. It is assumed that people who are obese just need to change their behavior – which they would if only they had the right information about food.

But many studies have shown that information alone can’t affect some of the factors that influence what we eat. For example, childhood obesity disproportionately hits people living in poverty, and hits them harder.

The food industry skillfully produces unhealthy, filling “foods” that cost much less than healthy kinds. Fresh produce is much more expensive, calorie for calorie, than junk food.

Information can’t change the fundamental inequality of access to healthy foods that is driving our obesity epidemic. A generation is at risk, and part of the cost will be a new spiral of health care expenses.

Nutrient labels only go so far. Science is still debating how much protein, fat and carbohydrates are needed, and what balance is healthy.

Not all fats are bad and some are critical to health. For example, the fat in whole milk is needed in the first years of life for brain development.

We share your concern about overemphasis on nutritional constituents and their potential for distorting healthy eating habits – ours and our children’s. Many of us have been victimized by the flip-flopping fads of high-carb/low-fat and low-carb/high-fat diets.

Healthy eating isn’t simply this much protein or that much fat. We need to research what kinds of protein and fat and carbohydrates, in what proportions, eaten at what times of day, in combination with what other foods, and perhaps even in what order.

How do these factors interact for good health?

We may even learn that physical activities and their timing – such as preparing food before eating it, or relaxing and chatting after meals – play a role in how our bodies make use of what we eat. Here are a few things to rely on:

First, stick to what nature offers us, like more leafy vegetables than fatty animals. Trust traditional ethnic diets. Refined over the generations, they generally produce healthier outcomes than the diets put together by the food industry in our time. Also, in many traditional cultures, eating takes place only at meals (rather than “grazing” throughout the day) and is a relaxed social event that makes less food and healthier food seem more satisfying.

Give up the sweet, fat and salty excesses of junk food. Be guided by your taste buds and your own sensations of hunger, fullness and satisfaction. Heeding these important signals helps us respond healthily.

We need to start children on this path from the very beginning of life.

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 3-and-1/2-year-old girl finally used the toilet for pooping, after several months of comfortably urinating by herself.

It happened after a weekend away with a 4-year-old who she watched, and was evidently encouraged to try it at home. She pooped again the next day. We showed her a lot of praise and joy at her accomplishment.

She had previously showed little interest in giving up her diapers to go poop, and admitted she was scared of making a poop in the toilet.

Then she stopped, and we are back where we were. She runs and gets her own diaper when it’s time. Sometimes she will “try,” which means sitting on the toilet for a few minutes, then getting up to find a diaper.

She has said things like, “I really like making poo in the potty!” and “Maybe later I will make poo in the potty,” but never really pushes herself to do it again.

We are just a little confused that she started, then stopped. We don’t want to push her, but we do feel like she likes the ease of grabbing a diaper, going, then having dad and mom quickly take it off and clean her up. We (and she) know she is capable, but she has a routine which works for her and she obviously doesn’t feel like pushing herself.

Should we nudge her along? Go “cold turkey” with all diapers gone from the house? Not say a thing about it?

A. No wonder you are confused. Your daughter does demonstrate many of the signs of readiness.

She can feel her readiness to “poo” coming on, she can tell you, and can hold on long enough to get herself to where she needs to go, or get herself a diaper. She even showed you that she could “poo” in the toilet.

But she isn’t fully ready, since she hasn’t mastered her fears, and perhaps doesn’t fully feel that this achievement is her own.

Perhaps all the praise when she imitated her 4-year-old friend was a little too much – too much excitement, and perhaps too much of your sense of victory interfering with her sense that this was her own.

Do you know what she is afraid of? Some children are afraid of the noise that a flushing toilet makes. Or that they’ll fall in. And many are quite troubled by the fact that once their b.m.’s are flushed down the toilet they disappear for ever. What happens to them? Where do they go? Where does she think they go? These are important questions for young children since they think of their b.m.’s as a part of their own bodies, as a precious product of themselves.

Pushing her isn’t likely to help. She seems quite motivated to imitate and be like older children and is bound to tire of diapers, which distinguish her from them.

Once a child who is developing healthily in all respects has had a chance to fully explore her questions, conquer her fears and feel that pooping in the toilet is her own achievement, rather than one that has been taken away from her, she’ll be fully ready to show herself that she can be successful.

Should she give up her diaper? I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, tell her that it is up to her to decide when and where she will use it. You will be ready to help her when she asks for it. Let her know that you know that when she’s ready to “poo” in the toilet, she will, and that there’s no need for her to reassure you about “later” or “really liking it.”

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 the grandfather of a 4-week-old girl, the first child of our daughter and her husband. How accurately can a newborn’s cries be interpreted?

A. Like all families, you wonder what your new addition is “saying.” Mothers, fathers and grandparents jockey over interpreting the new baby:. Does she want to be held? Or has she been held too much? Is she hungry or wet or weary? And who knows best?

Scientists have analyzed infants’ cries by pitch, tone, volume and rhythm. Infants indeed make cries that correlate to hunger, fatigue, discomfort, pain, a bid for interaction – or to letting off steam at the end of the day.

Feed a baby crying in one way, and she will guzzle appreciatively. A baby crying in another way will just turn her head and keep crying.

Parents may interpret their baby’s cries too narrowly. For example, they may think she is asking to be fed with each cry. Overfeeding, though, may confuse a baby into believing that feeding helps with other discomforts, like boredom or loneliness. Parents need a few weeks to learn to distinguish their baby’s cries. They may not be right each time, but they can narrow the possibilities.

A baby whose cry says “pick me up and love me” will quiet simply by being held. If she keeps crying, she may be asking for something else – to have a diaper changed, or to be swaddled more firmly for sleep.

As parents ponder a baby’s cries, she too is learning to distinguish different sensations, and to soothe herself when distressed. These will become skills of great importance.

If a baby is crying, it’s best for parents to go to her – but usually they needn’t rush to resolve the issue in seconds. Unless the baby is ill, in danger, or too fragile to tolerate her distress – as can happen for pre-term infants – you have time to prepare a feeding, check a diaper, cuddle and coo together, or help the baby soothe herself with a thumb to suck or a piece of soft cloth to touch.

Parents respond more sensitively to a baby’s cries as they learn more about her. Some babies are clearer than others in their communications.

Ultimately, all parents learn by trial and error, encouraged by family members and other parental cheerleaders who help them to feel OK about not always getting it right the first time.

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.

(This article is adapted from “Understanding Sibling Rivalry,” by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.)

Facing a second pregnancy is both thrilling and daunting. Parents will ask themselves: “What will this do to my older child? Can I manage with two? How could I ever love another child as much?”

When sibling rivalry arises, parents are bound to feel responsible, and guilty.

Later, they will find they need not divide their love, for they will love each child differently. But before the new baby arrives to help parents make this discovery, they may feel they must try not to grow attached to the new one, but instead must focus even more on the one they already have.

The fear of “deserting” the older child is inevitable. All parents wish they could eliminate the older child’s negative reactions to the new baby. This parental pressure makes the older child feel unacceptable as he is, and wonder if he really deserves to be replaced. Of course he knows that he both does and doesn’t want a new sibling.

Although these feelings are most prominent with the second pregnancy, they are likely to be present with any subsequent pregnancy. It can be a challenge to see each new baby as a “gift” to the family.

But parents needn’t feel that it is their role to protect their children from all the feelings – anger, jealousy and others – that they will experience with a new baby. Adjusting to a new sibling is a child’s opportunity to learn about these feelings and how to handle them. And parents can help.

When Do I Tell My First Child?

You never don’t tell him. As soon as you know a new baby is on the way, it can be discussed in the family openly. Your discussion is not so much an announcement as an acceptance of the baby as a future step for the whole family. But try not to overdo the information.

One couple told me that they had discussed the baby-to-be so much and so often that the older child was sick of it by the seventh month. He was tired of being prepared for so long.

Talking about the new baby coming into the family in an accepting way is different from excitedly preparing the older child for a major event. Parents can make it clear the family will “all deal with it together” without dramatizing that “everything will be different and you will have a big adjustment to make.”

Why Shouldn’t We Wait Until He Knows I’m Pregnant?

He may know almost as soon as you do.

Even a young child will notice. Leslie was 2 1/2 and and came to my office for a checkup. He was a handsome curly headed, dark-skinned toddler – the adored child of his lovely parents.

Every time he leaned over in my office, every time he’d lower himself to the floor, he’d let out a soft grunt. I thought that he might be hiding a bellyache or some problem in his joints. I felt his stomach more carefully. No tenderness. I examined his hips and legs. No problem. I watched him walk. Absolutely perfect, even graceful. I kept observing him. Each grunting sound made me more alert and more anxious. No physical signs.

Finally, out of the blue, I questioned his mother: “Are you pregnant?”

“No,” she assured me. A few days later, she called me to say, “I am pregnant. But I’m only eight weeks along. How did you know before I did?”

I was quick to answer: “I didn’t, really. But Leslie did.”

The job for parents is to give a name to the change the child senses, and gradually to make it seem real to the child. You might tell him, “You and Mommy and Daddy are going to have a baby. You can help us with the baby. You’ll be a big brother.”

Then, listen. Don’t keep telling him about the new baby. Wait for his questions. They’ll come.

When he passes a baby carriage, watch his eyes and his behavior change. He may say, “Can I help push the carriage?”

“Of course. You can be my best helper.”

He is already learning about giving. You are helping him discover its rewards. This is, of course, one of the most important lessons a sibling can ever learn.

How Will My Toddler React?

Everyone is talking about the changes that will occur. Of course, an older sibling has his questions: “When?” “Why?” (Aren’t I good enough?) “Will he be like me? Who will take care of me?”

All these questions deserve answers. As you answer, you’ll demonstrate your caring, and help your child “become a big brother.”

What you say may not matter as much as your being available. Your responsiveness is most important. This is a good time for each parent to start planning a regular “date” with the older child. Talk about it all week: “You and I will have our time together later this week. You can ask me all your questions and we can be together by ourselves. You are my big boy now and you’ll always be my first love.”

Labor and Delivery and the Older Child

As the delivery approaches, talk about going to the hospital to help the baby come “out.” Let your child know exactly who will stay with him at home, and who will take him to visit his mother and the new baby at the hospital.

It is a wonderful time for a father or a grandparent to point out that he or she will be there for the older child. One of the most rewarding experiences for me as a father was the opportunity to be completely available for my older daughters – and to have them all to myself!

Toward the end, be ready for the older child to build up excitement, as does the rest of the family. Tantrums, whining, sleep setbacks, food refusal and bedwetting can all be expected. These will arise from his confusion about all the intense anticipation as well as from his awareness of your heightened vulnerability.

The more he does now to share his distress, the easier it may be for him later.

When labor begins, and you must leave for the hospital, be sure to say goodbye. Tell him again that you’re going to the hospital for a few days. Remind him that he can call you, and come to visit. Reassure him again about who will be with him.

Tell him when you expect to come home. Show him on the calendar. All this preparation leaves him with a known structure and expectation. This can protect him from his deepest fear – that she’s “gone off to have the baby” and leave him. This fear is predictable for a young child, but parents can help allay it.

Reclaiming the Crib, and the ‘Big Boy’s Bed’

When parents are expecting a second child, they are often tempted to reclaim the first child’s crib to ready it for the new baby. Don’t.

If the older child is still in the crib during the pregnancy, don’t make him move unless you absolutely have to (for example, if he weighs too much for the crib, or is climbing out and at risk of being hurt). He’s already feeling displaced, and he will only feel more so once the baby is here.

Instead, you’ll have to get another crib for the baby and then wait until the older child really feels proud of being “a big brother.”

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. Please help. I am trying to find information on the causes of my grandchild’s low birth weight. She was full term and weighed 4 pounds 7 ounces. I am concerned about the consequences for her growth and development.

Should my daughter be concerned about the outcome of future pregnancies?

A. There are many causes for low birth weight. Some may predict future pregnancies resulting in low birth weight babies, or at least suggest some increased risk for more small babies, while others may be more likely to be once-only occurrences.

Among the possible causes: cigarette smoking during pregnancy, elevated blood pressure, problems with the placenta (which brings nutrition to the fetus’ blood stream from the mother’s), and inadequate maternal weight gain during pregnancy.

The impact of a mother’s health on her pregnancy and her baby’s future is one reason why prenatal care is so important. High blood pressure can develop for the first time during pregnancy in women with no prior history of it, and can be effectively treated, so blood pressure monitoring is a cornerstone of prenatal care.

But since some health issues are evident before a pregnancy and will take more than nine months to address, access to health care for all women of childbearing age is critical for healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.

It will also save a bundle in health care and educational expenses that many premature and very low birth weight babies will need. Six billion dollars per year of our health care costs are spent on neonatal intensive care for premature infants, to say nothing of the costs for special education and other services that premature infants are more likely to need later on. A health care system that fails to care for all women of childbearing age will cost us all more in the long run.

Significant stress during pregnancy has been found to be associated with premature births, and may also be associated with low birth weight in full-term babies since stress in the expectant mother can increase her stress hormones, which in turn can constrict the uterine artery which supplies nutrients through the placenta to the fetus.

A recent study found that mothers who took time off during the last three months of pregnancy were less likely to have premature babies. With only three months of unpaid maternity leave, few working expectant mothers can afford this luxury. Paid maternity leave during the last trimester could reduce the risks – and the costs – of prematurity and low birth weight.

Your daughter’s obstetrician may be able to tell her whether there was any evidence of problems with the placenta or other troubles during this pregnancy, and whether they are of the sort that might be more likely to occur again.

The pediatrician may also be able to help out here. A baby’s length in proportion to her weight may indicate whether low weight is more likely a result of a placental problem late in pregnancy or, instead, whether genetic or other less common causes are involved.

A long, skinny baby (normal length, low weight) is more likely to be the result of a problem with the placenta late in pregnancy: Often they look wizened and worried, and may be irritable and more difficult to soothe. A very “small all over” baby (low weight and length) may have experienced a problem earlier in the pregnancy, for example an infection, or again a problem with the placenta beginning earlier on.

Genetics may also play a role – especially in a baby whose height and weight are low – as a cause for a disorder in the child of which low birth weight is only one feature. In this case there would be other, more specific signs of such a disorder as well. Your daughter can ask the baby’s pediatrician if the low birth weight is a standalone issue or part of a larger syndrome.

As for these and other possible causes of concern for a low birth weight baby’s growth and development, we would hate to see you and your daughter worry about all the possibilities and would instead urge you to ask the pediatrician to review the pregnancy with the obstetrician, and then to watch carefully over her growth and development with you.

If your daughter’s pregnancy was entirely normal and your grandchild is entirely healthy, then chances are good that her growth and development will proceed normally too. But urge the pediatrician to follow closely. Let him or her know that if the baby does need help catching up, you all are ready to get going, the sooner the better.

You may be concerned about the “fetal programming” hypothesis put forward by David Barker which states that conditions during pregnancy can have lifelong effects for the fetus’ future health, and correlates low birth weight due to malnutrition during pregnancy with future health problems. However, it is important to remember that research like Barker’s examines statistical probabilities for very large population samples, and can’t really tell you much about your grandchild. These large studies that predict the chance of one outcome or another in large groups of people can’t tell us which way the coin will flip for any single individual.

Fortunately, you are there to vigilantly watch over this baby’s growth and development, and to help your daughter respond if the pediatrician finds any cause for concern.

Development is such a powerful force, especially in the first years of life. The human brain never again grows and changes as dramatically as it does in infants. In this period it is remarkably adaptive, developing new circuits and pathways to bypass and overcome specific areas that are not able to keep up.

Early intervention – before a child turns 3 years of age – provided by specially trained professionals (speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and physical therapists, for example) can help make the most of the astounding capacity of the very young human brain to recover and grow.

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