Starting Out on the Right Path
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A third significant finding was the realization that positive relationships
are powerful mediating factors that support basic emotional development.
Research on what is termed 'emotional intelligence' strongly implies
that how a young child feels is as important, if not more important,
as how a child thinks. This suggested that the primacy of emotional
development — including the importance of developing a secure
attachment and the ability to develop trusting relationships —
is an integral part of the fundamental emotional scaffolding that
supports cognitive and language development. These personal capacities
and attributes are also important for optimal lifelong learning.
And fourth, the research suggested that not only were optimal experiences
and relationships important for healthy development and school readiness
but that adversity negatively impacts brain development. In this
context, adversity is a wide spectrum and can manifest from a range
of events that include the devastating impact of abuse and neglect
to the more common problems of substance abuse and parental depression
that result in less-than-optimal parent-child interactions.
Several studies have documented how adverse experiences can overwhelm
a young child's immature and developing coping mechanisms and result
in significant changes in neural function, with long-term effects
on emotional, behavioral and cognitive development. This research
also clearly shows that adversity manifests in many forms, and one
of the most common factors contributing to adversity in early childhood
is poverty. The resulting conditions associated with being poor
and not having adequate material, social and psychological resources
to parent effectively can further challenge a child's healthy development.