How children (don’t) succeed; a program that helps them succeed; should these studies be ACE-informed?

Claudia Gold, a pediatrician who blogs on Child in Mind and Boston.com, wrote a terrific post about Paul Tough and his new book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. You’ll be hearing a lot about it — he was interviewed yesterday on NPR, and also did a Q-and-A with the Hechinger Report on Huffington Post called “The Obama Administration’s Big Missed Opportunity”. (Gold also did a very thorough review of the book in a previous post.)

Gold took a somewhat different approach in her conversation with Tough. She believes that our current health care and education systems, our over-reliance on psychotropic drugs, and childism — defined by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl in Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children as “a prejudice against children on the ground of a belief that they are property and can (or even should) be controlled, enslaved, or removed to serve adult needs” — lead to inadvertent child maltreatment. In other words, high ACE scores.

Gold created a scenario of how health care, education and childism lead to children not succeeding. It’s one she sees or hears about all too often (hence the headline “How Children [Don’t] Succeed”). I hope you read it, because we all know that scenario or one that’s very similar.

She asked Tough about this, and used their conversation as a means to a create an interesting list of changes she recommends. Here are two out of the six:

1) Transform education of health care professionals, who are on the front lines with young children and families, to focus on relationships as the 4th vital sign. The American Academy of Pediatrics Early Brain and Child Development Initiative is an important step in the right direction.

2) Educate all professionals who work with children and families about practical application of contemporary developmental science  (I actually wrote my book Keeping Your Child in Mind, for this purpose).

ONE WAY THAT EDUCATORS CAN INCORPORATE character-building into their work can be found in a story by Joann Fox on SiouxCityJournal.com. She reported on a three-day workshop for educators sponsored by Midwest Trauma Services Network. Dicki Johnson Macy from the Boston Children’s Foundation taught teachers how to use Rainbowdance. Macy and her husband, Dr. Robert Macy, a pioneer in traumatic stress interventions, created the approach.

Rainbowdance gathers children, teachers and parents around a parachute for one hour for the purpose of enhancing social empathy, self-confidence and self-regulation. Blending storytelling, object lessons, repetitious movements set to cultural music and improvisation, Rainbowdance provides the safe structure necessary for children to develop competency and relationships, Johnson-Macy explained.

“Participants mirror movement and behavior rather than the typical command-based instruction, giving the child a sense of both freedom and structure,” she said. “Consistency coupled with mastery of movement creates an environment of safety where children find the confidence to face daily challenges.”

The stories and improvisations that Johnson-Macy and husband Dr. Robert Macy created have themes of cooperation, respect, trust, honor and gentleness, and are developed to expose each child to adaptive coping strategies for successfully meeting normal developmental challenges, as well as constructive solutions to conflict.

THESE TWO STUDIES, IMHO, MIGHT BE ABLE TO USE A DOSE OF ACE-INFORMING. Both were featured on MedPageToday.com. One is “Obesity May Harm Kids’ Brain, Thinking“, and the other is “Moms’ Prenatal Smoking Tied to Kids’ Obesity“. In the case of the link between prenatal smoking and kids’ obesity, the researchers noted changes in the amygdala, leading to making an association between effects of smoking and changes in the brain. Other questions to ask, especially in light of the findings of the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experience Study, are: Are family dysfunctions leading to mothers smoking to relieve anxiety? Are those dysfunctions still present when the children are born, and do they in turn lead kids to over-eat as an acceptable method of coping with stress?
The other research found that children who were obese had “structural abnormalities in the brain and lower scores on tests of cognitive function”. The conclusion was that there should be “early and comprehensive intervention” when children are obese, and that brain function “be introduced among the parameters that need to be evaluated when considering early treatment of childhood obesity.” In this case, in light of the ACE Study findings and other brain research, should other questions be asked, such as: Why are these kids over-eating? Is it because of family dysfunction or child maltreatment? That also damages the brain through toxic stress created by an overabundance of stress hormones, and leads to other biochemical coping behaviors, including smoking and high-risk activities, including sex and thrill sports.
In other words, for both of these studies, is it toxic stress that’s the ultimate cause of the brain changes? And then are there other effects caused by obesity and smoking? That might be important, because if toxic stress is also involved, and the target is only the obesity, then dealing with only the obesity might not help.

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