Category Archives: Parenting

‘Puer Aeternus’, Failure to Launch, The Millenial dilemma – Gillian McCann, and Gitte U Bechsgaard * Millennials who leave home before moving back in are causing havoc for their families – Emilia Mazza * Millennials May Never Be Able To Move Out Of Their Parents’ Homes.

From Italy to Britain to Canada, more and more millennials are failing to launch and remain at home well into their thirties.

If the child cannot move into adulthood their parents also cannot move onto the next stage of their lives.

No one is saying we need to return to early marriages but clearly our rites of passage have not kept up with the times.

When an adult child moves back home after they’ve left, parents can start to feel resentful, especially if their child is acting the same way they did before they left home.

“Puer Aeternus: Someone who remains too long in adolescent psychology.” Marie-Louise Von Franz

It is disturbing to think we have come to this but without an alternative it is likely we will see more court cases where parents take extreme measures in order to launch their adult children.

Recently the eyes of the world were riveted on a court case in Upstate New York. At the centre of the media storm was a couple, pictured sitting stoically in a courtroom, who were using the legal system to remove their 30-year-old son from the family home. How could it have come to this? Journalists, news anchors, and radio discjockeys rushed in to try and make sense of this story which seemed to resonate around the world.

There was good reason for British journalists to show up on the lawn of this family, this is not just an American problem. From Italy to Britain to Canada, more and more millennials are failing to launch and remain at home well into their thirties. The 2016 Canadian census showed a record-breaking 34.7% of young adults remained in the family home.

While economics, longer education times and helicopter parenting clearly have something to do with this situation we will leave those aspects to others to examine. We want to look at the psychology that is contributing to the increasingly common phenomenon of children who are seemingly unable to move into adulthood. A number of changes have occurred within our societies in the last 40 years to contribute to this seemingly baffling situation.

Beginning in the 1960s Jungian analyst Marie-Louise Von Franz gave a series of lectures on a complex that she referred to as the puer aeternus. Von Franz described this syndrome as someone who “remains too long in adolescent psychology.” At the time that she was giving these lectures this was a very rare psychological problem, but societal changes have resulted in it becoming increasingly common. Across the western world sociological surveys are registering a sea change in how people move, or don’t, into adulthood.

More and more people seem to be getting caught in the phase of adolescence in both their attitudes and lifestyles, unable to move into full adulthood. This inability has implications both for the psychological health of the individual and the well-being of their families.

If the child cannot move into adulthood their parents also cannot move onto the next stage of their lives.

What few have seemed to note amid all the public discussion is that adulthood is not a given but is defined by family, culture and society. We are not born knowing what a adult is or how one is supposed to act. However, many millennials are left without clear definitions about what a mature person would look or act like. Along with many progressive changes some of the negative impact of the 1960’s has been an obsession with youth and a suspicion of adulthood that continues to linger long after the hippie generation crossed the 30-year mark and thus were unable to trust themselves.

Contributing to this problem is the fact that many in our society have discarded the rituals that used to usher us through the different phases of life. Without these rites of passage and clearly marked changes in status it is very easy to become caught in what anthropologist van Gennep referred to as a liminal state betwixt and between. With the deciine of religious practice and community life fewer people now have access to the rites of passage that structure human and community life. As van Gennep writes, these rituais “enable the individual to pass from one defined position to another which is equaily well defined.“

Around the world there are a wide variety of usually religiously based rituals that signal to the individual, and their community that they are moving into adulthood. These range from the confirmation ceremonies of Christianity to the bar and bat mitzvahs of Judaism and the Tirundukuli of Hinduism and many more. These ceremonies witnessed by family and community, formal clothes and party are all a clear indication that the person’s status was changing. These rituals were meant to signal to their community the individuals new maturity and also to reinforce this psychologically as they took on more outer signs of independence such as a job and learning how to handle money.

Another feature of the failure to launch is that fewer and fewer people are getting married or are getting married later. For our parents’ generation the transition to adulthood happened in one fell swoop: You got married and moved out of the house often starting your own family shortly thereafter.

Michael Rotondo’s parents sued him to get him out of their house.

No one is saying we need to return to early marriages but clearly our rites of passage have not kept up with the times.

It is clear that we need as a society to determine what we mean by adulthood and then help the younger generation to makes these transitions. This requires a clear sense of what being an adult entails for example: the ability to think beyond one’s narrow selfinterest, emotional maturity, financial independence, and participation in community. If we ourselves don’t know it is impossible to expect the younger generation to embody these characteristics and they are left flailing. Life can become like a vast ocean without any markers to indicate where we are in the journey.

Lacking the ability to enforce these passages in the traditional manner the Rotondo family was forced to take it all to the next level and use the courts in order to enforce independence on their son. This may seem absurd but is perhaps not really surprising. For a period of time the Italian government was considering legislation to move their legion of mammones out of the house. In Italy currently 66% of 18-34 year olds live at home.

It is disturbing to think we have come to this but without an alternative it is likely we will see more cases where parents take extreme measures in order to launch their adult children.

The boomerang kids who are ruining their parents’ lives: Generation of millennials who leave home before moving back in are causing havoc for their families

Emilia Mazza

Adult children who move out of home and then move back, or those who simply refuse to leave the comforts of family life, are ruining parents lives.

Adult children who fly the coop and return home if their situation doesn’t work out have been dubbed the ‘Boomerang Generation’, while those who don‘t want to move out because they are at university longer or struggling with the cost of living have earned themselves the title of ‘adult-escents’, fully grown children who still live at home and act like teenagers.

Dr Justin Coulson says that although a move home by an adult child may be justified, this can have an effect on the well being of parents. He explained how research by the London School of Economics found adult children who return to the family home after leaving can cause a significant decline in their parents’ quality of life.

“Parents experience the same frustrations as they did when their kids lived at home but these seem to be multiplied because they have had a reprieve. They can start to feel as if their parenting duties have to start all over again.”

The author of 10 Things Every Parent Needs to Know said when children leave home parents enter a new phase of life, one that’s far less burdened with the responsibility of bringing up kids.

“You start to do things your way, you do things that are convenient for you when they are convenient. And you don’t have to put yourself out for anyone else anymore. When an adult child moves back home after they’ve left, parents can start to feel resentful, especially if their child is acting the same way they did before they left home. They may start to worry about who left the garbage in the bin, or who left socks under the dining table or forgot to lock the house.”

Then there is the question of who is going to contribute and how. Whether or not they are going to pay rent, if they are, will they need to be chased.

“The accumulation of these smaller problems can be a real source of tension for parents who may have been thinking they no longer needed to worry about these things. Once a child has moved out, they are considered an adult so if parents have to pick up after them again then this can be a source of frustration and difficulty.”

Dr Coulson also explained there are adult children who simply refuse to take any responsibility for their lives, despite the fact they are of an age where they could. As well as a rise in millennials moving back home, adult children were also staying at home longer because the transition to adulthood was taking longer.

“Not only are we seeing more move back in, we’re seeing fewer kids moving out in the first place… We call it “adult-essence” instead of adolescence.

Grown children who haven’t moved out might become too cosy at home; they might fail to pull their weight around the house, or not pay their way.

They’re sloppy, they don’t clean up the dishes or they won’t clean their room. We feel like they’re at uni or at work but we’re still waking them up and they’re grown ups.”

Dr Coulson said although parents could face certain challenges when children do return home, there were times when offering a child a safe place was important.

“If parents can be responsive to the reasons that have led them to moving back home then they are less likely to experience the decline in satisfaction.”

Dr Coulson’s advice on how do deal with kids who do move back

* Parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask their adult children for rent

* Establish guidelines from the outset and expect your child to adhere to these

* Allocate responsibility, this can be a weekly chore such as taking out the rubbish, moving the lawns or helping to care for younger siblings

* If you feel you are being taken advantage it is okay to ask your adult children to leave

“Just because the research says you will be unhappy doesn’t mean we should say no to our kids if they have struck a difficult situation. We need to remember to be compassionate and offer to help.”

One important thing parents need to watch out for is a child who is trying to take advantage of the situation. Some kids are just looking for a free ride and that’s when the resentment and negative feelings can come up even more. If we can establish effective guidelines, living with adult children can be fantastic, they can contribute financially, do certain chores or babysit younger kids.

“It really doesn’t have to be bad but it comes down to having conversations from the outset, and being clear that if they don’t live up to these expectations it’s okay to ask them to leave.”

Millennials May Never Be Able To Move Out Of Their Parents’ Homes – Narcity

Studies show that millennials are, well, screwed.

‘Generation Screwed’ is the latest epithet assigned to millennials by boomers, and while it may be a rather harsh characterization, it does bear some truth. While it’s common for young adults to move back home with their parents after university, many of them are staying there for longer than expected, and sometimes it’s for reasons that are beyond their control.

Often times the current circumstances just don’t work in their favour. While the economy is somewhat looking up, graduates today are still faced with an unwelcoming job market and a real estate situation that is more volatile than ever. The combination of these two factors makes it difficult for millennials to establish the stable footing they require to leave the nest.

Most Canadian millennials have difficulty finding a job, with the unemployment rate for 15 to 24 year olds at a concerning 13.2%. Those that do manage to find work (that is, 48% of young Canadian adults), often land parttime or precarious jobs that end up being nothing more than temporary gigs. And those who can’t land a job at all resort to unpaid positions that garner as many as 300,000 willing interns across the country.

Without stable work, other life milestones like getting married or owning a house become fleeting fantasies rather than achievable ideals. It doesn’t help that the real estate market in Canada is out of control. According to the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), national sales are to drop by 3.3% this year, with the average price of a home in Canada now being more than $500,000. The millennials that do move out resort to renting; but even that presents some financial burden with rent increases doubling in some areas.

All of this is to say that those who stay at home with one’s parents shouldn’t automatically be misjudged as lazy and entitled individuals. Because the reality is that, for many people, staying home isn’t a choice, it’s necessity.

“We will change the world, starting from the very beginning.” Building Babies Brains. Criança Feliz, Brazil’s audacious plan to fight poverty – Jenny Anderson * Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale – The Lancet * A groundbreaking study offers undeniable proof that the fight against inequality starts with moms – Jenny Anderson.

“How can we most dramatically improve the quality of life for our citizens, their health, their education? The answer to that question lies in starting at the beginning, at pregnancy, and in the first few years of a child’s life.” Osmar Terra

Decades of groundbreaking research shows that the love and sense of safety experienced by a baby directly impacts how the child’s brain is wired. Adversity, especially persistent, stress-triggering adversity like neglect and abuse, hampers that development, and can result in poorer health, educational attainment, and early death.

“Children who experience profound neglect early in life, if you don’t reverse that by the age of two, the chance they will end up with poor development outcomes is high. The strongest buffer to protect against that? A parent, or caring adult.” Charles Nelson

The best investment a policymaker can make is in the earliest years of childhood, because that’s when intervention has the highest payoffs. Strong biological, psychosocial, and economic arguments exist for intervening as early as possible, starting from and even before conception, to promote, protect, and support children’s development.

Studies have found that children whose mothers received coaching made significant developmental gains, and not just in the short term. Twenty-two years later, the kids from one group who had received those home visits as young children not only had higher scores on tests of reading, math, and general knowledge, they had stayed in school longer. They were less likely to exhibit violent behavior, less likely to experience depression, and had better social skills. They also earned 25% more on average than a control group of kids whose mothers had not received the coaching.

Osmar Terra is a tall man with a deep voice and an easy laugh, one that disguises the scale of his ambition to transform Brazilian society. A federal representative for nearly two decades, he is the driving force behind the world’s biggest experiment to prove that teaching poor parents how to love and nurture their infants will dramatically influence what kind of adults they become, and give Brazil its best shot at changing its current trajectory of violence, inequality, and poverty.

Terra, aged 68, first became obsessed with the question of how humans develop nearly 30 years ago. As a cardiologist in the 1990s, he would read endless research papers about the neuroscience of early childhood. When he entered politics, becoming mayor of Santa Rosa in Rio Grande do Sul in 1992, he continued to grapple with the question, even studying for a master’s degree in neuroscience. The science, he believed, should lead to smart policy. As a doctor and a manager, a mayor and a state health secretary, he was always trying to figure out how to to tackle poverty head-on. “In every single activity I always ask myself, ‘What is the public policy that can be more transformative?’” he says. “How can we most dramatically improve the quality of life for our citizens, their health, their education?”

The answer to that question, he came to realize, lay in starting at the beginning, at pregnancy, and in the first few years of a Child’s life.

Decades of groundbreaking research shows that the love and sense of safety experienced by a baby directly impacts how the child’s brain is wired. Adversity, especially persistent, stress-triggering adversity like neglect and abuse, hampers that development, and can result in poorer health, educational attainment, and early death. While science underpins his mission, Terra’s palpable passion for the topic and his skill at politicking eventually led him to create Criança Feliz, a highly ambitious parent coaching program he helped launch in 2017 to try and reach four million pregnant women and children by 2020.

Under Criança Feliz, an army of trained social workers, a sort of national baby corps, are dispatched to the poorest corners of Brazil. Traveling by boat, sometimes battling crocodiles and floods, by foot, by car, by truck and by bus, these social workers go to people’s homes to show them how to play, sing, and show affection to their infants and young children. They explain to parents why this matters:

Emotional safety underpins cognitive growth. Intelligence is not fixed, but formed through experience.

Parent coaching, and specifically, home visiting, is not new. The most famous study, which took place in Jamaica in the 1970s, showed that well trained home visitors supporting poor mothers with weekly visits for two years led to big improvements in children’s cognition, behavior, and future earnings. One group of infants in that program who received coaching in their earliest years earned 25% more than a control group more than 20 years later.

But Brazil’s ambition is audacious. No city or country has ever attempted to reach so many people in such a short amount of time. (The largest program doing this now is probably in Peru, reaching about 100,000 families; Criança Feliz is already reaching 300,000.) “They are raising the bar for what is possible nationally,” says Jan Sanderson, the former deputy minister of children from Manitoba, Canada, who is an expert in home visiting and recently traveled to observe the program.

Just how Brazil, a massive country with endemic poverty and grating inequality, came to embrace parent coaching as the next frontier in combating poverty is a story of Terra’s political will, the strategic savvy of a few foundations, the pivotal role of a Harvard program, and the compassion of a growing group of unlikely allies, from communists to far-right wing politicians. Talking to lawmakers in Brazil can feel like wandering around a neuroscience convention: One senator from the south can’t stop talking about working memory, while a mayor from the northern town of Boa Vista in Roirama state is fixated on synapse connection.

At least 68 senators and congresspeople, judges, and mayors have converted to the cause, becoming evangelical in their focus on early childhood development.

“I believe that this is the solution, not only for Brazil, but for any country in the world in terms of security, public security, education, and health care,” says Iosé Medeiros, a senator from the state of Mato Grosso who heads the parliamentary committee on early childhood development. “It’s a cheap solution.”

Terra’s claims are more dramatic. “We will change the world, starting from the very beginning.”

Those words are hardly surprising coming from the man whom Ely Harasawa, Criança Feliz’s director, calls the program’s “godfather.” But the devil, of course, is in the details, and in Terra and his allies’ ability to steer a course through some rather treacherous political terrain.

Criança Feliz in action

On a hot day in May, Adriana Miranda, a 22-year-old accounting student, visits Gabriela Carolina Herrera Campero, also 22, who is 36 weeks pregnant with her third child. Campero arrived in Brazil less than a year ago from Venezuela, fleeing with her husband and two children from that country’s financial collapse and ensuing chaos. She lives in Boa Vista, a city in the north of Brazil where 10% of the population are estimated to be refugees.

The two women greet each other warmly and start chatting, in spite of the fact that Miranda is speaking in Portuguese and Campero in Spanish. They sit together on plastic chairs on a concrete patio as Miranda goes through a checklist of questions about the pregnancy. Has Campero been to her prenatal visits? (Yes.) How is she feeling? (Hot.) Is she drinking enough water? (Yes.) And walking? (When it’s not too hot.) Is she depressed or anxious? (No, but worried, yes.) Does she feel supported by her husband? (Yes.) How is she sleeping and what kinds of foods is she eating? (She’s not sleeping well because she always has to pee, and she is eating a lot of fruit.)

Miranda moves on to talking with Campero about attachment, how to create a strong bond with a baby in utero, and also once the baby is born. Does she know that at five months, the baby can hear her and that her voice will provide comfort to the baby when it is born?

“It’s important the baby feel the love we are transmitting. When he is in distress, he will know your voice and it will calm him,” says Miranda.

It’s a topic they have discussed before. Campero is eager to show what she has learned about the baby. (A part of the program requires that visitors check for knowledge.) “It has five senses, and if I talk, he will know my voice,” she says. “The baby will develop more.” They discuss the importance of cuddling a baby and being patient.

Having a baby in the best of circumstances can be challenging. As an impoverished refugee, in a new country, it can be utterly overwhelming.

I ask Campero, in Spanish, whether the program has been helpful. After all, she already has two kids. Doesn’t she know what to expect? She starts to cry. “They have helped me emotionally,” she says. “She has taught me so many things I didn’t know.” For example, she didn’t know to read to a baby, or that her baby could hear her in utero. Her son used to hit her belly; he now sings songs to the baby because she explained to him what she learned from Miranda. “I feel supported,” she tells me.

Many people, rich and poor alike, have no idea what infants are capable of. Psychologists and neuroscientists believe they are creative geniuses, able to process information in far more sophisticated ways than we ever knew. But for that genius to show itself, the baby needs to feel safe and loved and to have attention.

Medeiros explains how he viewed parenting before he went to the Harvard program.

”I raised my kids as if I were taking care of a plant,” he recalls. “You give them food, you take care of them.” He says he did the best he could, but “I did not have all this information. If I had encouraged them, stimulated them more, I would have been able to contribute much more to their development.”

He is hardly the exception. A 2012 nationally representative survey in Brazil asked mothers, 5200 of whom were college educated, what things were most important for the development of their children up to three years of age. Only 19% mentioned playing and walking, 18% said receiving attention from adults, and 12% picked receiving affection. “So playing, talking to the child, attachment, it’s not important for more than 80% of the people who are interviewed,” says Harasawa, the director of Criança Feliz.

Criança Feliz is part of Brazil’s welfare program for its poorest citizens, called Bolsa Familia. Started 15 years ago, the welfare program is rooted in a cash transfer system that makes payments contingent on kids getting vaccines and staying in school, and pregnant mothers getting prenatal care. Vaccination rates in Brazil exceed 95% and primary school enrollment is near universal. Originally derided, and still criticized by some in Brazil as a handout program for the poor, Bolsa Familia is nevertheless being replicated worldwide.

But a powerful coterie of Brazil’s political leaders believe it’s not enough. Cash transfers alleviate the conditions of poverty, but do not change its trajectory.

That’s where Criança Feliz comes in. The program is adapted from UNICEF and the World Health Organization’s Care for Child Development parent coaching program. Trained social workers visit pregnant women every month and new parents once a week for the hrst three years of a child’s life. Sessions last about an hour. The goal is to not to play with the baby or train the parent, but to help parents have a more loving relationship with their children. The program costs $20 per child per month. The ministry of social development allocated $100 million in 2017 and $200 million in 2018.

Cesar Victoria, an epidemiology professor at the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, will conduct a three year randomized control trial comparing kids in the program to kids who are not, on measures of cognition, attachment, and motor development. Caregivers will be evaluated to see what they have learned about stimulation and play.

Criança Feliz neither pities poverty nor romanticizes it. It recognizes that low income people often lack information about how to raise their children and offers that information up, allowing parents to do what they will with it. “It’s one thing to say ‘read to your baby twice a day,”’ says Sanderson. “It’s another thing to say, ‘when your baby hears your voice, there are little sparks firing in his brain that are helping him get ready to learn.’”

Of course, it’s a delicate balance between respecting the right of a family to raise their children the way they see fit and offering information and evidence that could help the child and the family. “You’re in their home, you can’t interfere,” says Teresa Surrita, mayor of Boa Vista. “But you are there to change their mindset.”

Liticia Lopes da Silva 23, a home visitor from Arujé, outside Sao Paulo, says that the initial Visits with families can be hard. “They don’t understand the importance of stimulation and they are resistant to the idea of playing with children,” she says. “They are raised a different way, their parents did not have this interaction with them.” The issue is not just that some mothers don’t play with their babies; some barely look at them. Others treat the visitors as nannies, leaving them to play with the child, thus thwarting the very purpose of the visit, the interaction between parent and child.

But after a few weeks of watching a social worker sit on the floor, playing with the child, and talking with her about the baby’s development, the mothers sometimes join in. “It’s amazing to see the families evolve,” says one home visitor in Arujé. “Three to four months after, you see the difference in how the mother plays with the child. In a different way, the whole family gets involved. Fathers often get involved and many families start to ask the visitors to come more often, although the visitors cannot oblige.

When a home visitor named Sissi Elisabeth Gimenes visits a family in Aruié, she brings a color wheel painted onto a piece of recycled cardboard, along with painted clothespins. She asks Agatha, age three, to put a brown clip on the brown color.

Agatha doesn’t know her colors and gets very shy. Sissi encourages Agatha while chatting with her mother, Alda Ferreira, about how play beneflts brain development. She quietly models how to use encouragement and praise, praising Agatha for finding white, ”the color of clouds”, as the girl slowly gets more confident and gets off her mother’s lap to play.

The activity is intentional. The clips hone Agatha’s fine motor skills as well as her cognitive ones; the interaction with her mother helps create the synaptic connections that allow her brain to grow and pave the way to more effective learning later on. Alda tells us her daughter knows many things that her older daughter did not at the same age.

Agatha

The process changes the social workers as well. One social worker, who has a three year old herself, says that as parents, we think we know everything. “But I knew nothing.” In Aruja, where the home visitors are all psychology students at the local university, working with the program as part-time interns, many admitted to being shocked at seeing the reality of what they’d been taught in the classroom. Poverty looks different off the page. “We are changing because we are out of the bubble,” said one. “Theory is very shallow.”

As we leave Campero’s house, I ask Miranda what she thought of the visit. She too starts to cry. “Gabriella recognizes the program is making a difference in her life,” she says, embarrassed and surprised at her own emotions. Campero had told Miranda a few weeks earlier that she was worried because the baby was not moving. Miranda suggested that Campero try singing to the child in her womb; the baby started to move.

The man who made it happen

In 2003, as secretary of health in Rio Grande do Sul, Terra created Programa Primeira Infancia Melhor (the Better Early Childhood Development Program, or PIM), a home visiting program based on Educa tu Hijo, a very successful case study from Cuba. Results have been mixed, but Terra saw the impact it had on families and communities. He set his sights on expanding the program nationally.

One of the most persuasive arguments for the program, he knew, was the science. But he had to build votes for that science. In 2011, he started lobbying everyone he could to try and get financial backing from congress to fund a week-long course that he helped create at Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child. He thought if lawmakers, who would be attracted to the prestige of a course at Harvard, could learn from the neuroscientists and physicians there, they might also become advocates for the policy.

“Anybody in the corridor he sees, it’s a hug, it’s a tap on the chest, and then it’s early childhood development,” says Mary Young, director of the Center for Child Development at the China Development Research Foundation and an advisor to Criança Feliz. “He’s got the will and the skill.”

One convert, Michel Temer, who was vice president from 2011 and became president in 2016 when his boss was impeached, tapped Terra to be minister of social development. Soon after, Criança Feliz was born. But trying to get Terra to talk about legislation can be a challenge. What he wants to talk about are neurons, synapses, and working memory. Did I know that one million new neural connections are formed every second in the first few years of life?

And that those neural connections are key to forming memories?

“The number of connections depends on the stimuli of the environment,” he says. And the environment of poverty is relentlessly unkind to the stimuli available to children.

Attachment, he explains, is key, not just psychologically, but neurobiologically. “If a child feels emotionally safe and secure and attached they explore the world in a better way. The safer they feel, the safer their base, the faster they learn,” he says.

The first 1,000 days

Over the past 20 years, scientists have focused on the importance of the first 1,000 days of life. Brains build themselves, starting with basic connections and moving to more complex ones. Like a house, the better the foundation of basic connections, the more complex are the ones that can be built on top. In an infant’s earliest days, it’s not flashcards that create their brains, but relationships, via an interactive process that scientists call “serve and return.” When an infant or young child babbles, looks at an adult, or cries, and the adult responds with an affectionate gaze, words, or hugs, neural connections are created in the child’s brain that allow them to later develop critical tools like self-control and communication.

If kids do not experience stimulation and nurturing care, or if they face repeated neglect or abuse, the neural networks do not organize well. And that, says Charles Nelson, a pediatrics professor at Harvard Medical School, can affect the immune system, the cardiovascular system, the metabolic system, and even alter the physical structure of the brain. “Children who experience profound neglect early in life, if you don’t reverse that by the age of two, the chance they will end up with poor development outcomes is high,” he says.

The strongest buffer to protect against that? A parent, or caring adult.

The case for early childhood as policy was elevated by Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman. As founder of the Center for the Economics of Human Development at the University of Chicago, he demonstrated the economic case for why the best investment a policymaker can make is in the earliest years of childhood, because that’s when intervention has the highest payoffs.

“The highest rate of return in early childhood development comes from investing as early as possible, from birth through age five, in disadvantaged families,” Heckman said in 2012. His work showed that every dollar invested in a child over those years delivers a 13% return on investment every year. “Starting at age three or four is too little too late, as it fails to recognize that skills beget skills in a complementary and dynamic way,” he said.

More than 506 Brazilian legislators, judges, mayors, state politicians and and prosecutors have attended the Harvard course that Terra helped set up. There, Jack Shonkoff, a pediatrician and professor, explains what infants need to thrive, what toxic stress does to a child and how to build resilience. The attendees are put in groups, maybe a state senator from one state with council members from municipalities in the same state, to spend the week on a project; in the next two-and-a-half months, they finish it with the help of a technical facilitator.

”It’s a little facilitation and a little manipulation,” says Eduardo Queiroz, outgoing head of the Fundaeéo Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal, a foundation which has played an integral role in supporting and shepherding Criança Feliz. “We create a community.”

It costs $8,800 to attend the program. Some pay their own way. Congress pays for lawmakers to go, and the Fundagéo Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal funds between 10 and 12 scholarships a year. The fellowship does not require the participants to do anything with their knowledge. But many have. Surrita, who is in her fifth term as mayor of Boa Vista, focused her early governing efforts on working with teens, tackling drugs and gangs as a way to help them. After her week at Harvard, she changed her approach, deciding to make Boa Vista the “early childhood development capital of Brazil.” Investing in young children, she argues, will mean not so many problems with teens:

”After taking this course Harvard on the ECD I realized how important it would be for us to work with the kids from pregnancy up to 6 years old that to develop them mentally and cognitively and that way I realized that it would be possible for us to improve the performance of the teenagers lives by working on them when they’re kids.”

Obstacles and opportunities

Criança Feliz faces two significant threats: the prospect of being shut down, and the challenges created by its own ambition.

Although the Legal Framework for Early Childhood Development, passed in 2016, underpins Criança Feliz, it currently exists as a decree of the president. Of the last three presidents, one is in jail, one was impeached and the current one, Temer, faces criminal charges. With approval ratings of around 3%, Temer has decided not to run again, and the program’s supporters are worried that whoever wins the election will dismantle what the previous government has done (a common practice in Brazil). “We are concerned every day because the program is ongoing and we don’t know if the [next] president will support it,” says Ilnara Trajano, the state coordinator from Roirama state.

Mederios and Terra say the solution to avoiding political death is to create a law that will automatically fund Criança Feliz at the state level, rather than relying on presidential support. Terra, who exudes confidence and optimism, is sure such a law can be passed before the October date set for presidential elections. Others, including Harasawa, are not so sanguine. “We are in a race against time,” she says. She is working around the clock to build support one municipality at a time. She worries that not everyone thinks the government should play a role in parenting. “We are not trying to replace the family,” she says. “We are trying to support it.”

Beyond its political future, the program itself faces a host of issues. In many places, there aren’t enough skilled workers to act as home visitors. There’s also the fraught logistics of getting around. In Careiro da Varzea, in Amazonas state, home visitors often travel five hours, by foot, to reach pregnant women and young children; they are tired when they arrive. In Arujé, seven home visitors share one car to visit 200 families, or 30 visits each, per week. Internet services can be terrible, and wild, dogs often chase the social workers.

The visitors are trained in a curriculum that tells them which materials to use, what to teach and when, and the research that underpins the guidance they give to mothers. But they need more training, and the curriculum does not always prepare them for the poverty and distress they see. Some mothers want to give up their babies; they did not want them in the first place.

Many suffer from depression. The social workers are trained to support nurturing care, but they are not mental health experts. Inevitably, turnover is high.

The evidence for the value of home visiting at scale is at once highly compelling and frustratingly imprecise. Consider the case of Colombia: From 2009 to 2011, researchers there studied 1,419 children between the ages of 12 to 24 months to see whether coaching their mothers on interactions with their babies could help the children’s development. After 18 months, the researchers found a host of benefits. The children whose mothers had received coaching got smarter. Their language skills improved, and their home environments were judged to be more stimulating. But when researchers went back two years later, they found the children, now about five years old, had not maintained those benetits. “Two years after the intervention ended, we found no effects on children’s cognition, language, school readiness, executive functioning, or behavioral development,” the study reported. (Criança Feliz run for a longer period of time, however.)

Governments face notoriously hard choices about where to invest their money. “Early childhood development is a really valuable investment,” says Dave Evans, an economist at the World Bank. “But so is primary education and the quality of primary education, and if you spend a dollar in one place, it’s a dollar you aren’t spending in another place.”

Samuel, Keith, and Giliane

One of the Virtues of a home visiting program, compared to say, building childcare centers, is that social workers can see what is happening inside a home: signs of domestic violence, other children in need, a mother’s depression, a father’s unemployment. They can help with kids like Samuel, who was born with cerebral palsy.

At two-and-a-half years old, Samuel loves his ball, and shrieks with delight when he is presented with a truck. He can’t stop smiling at his mother, Giliane de Almedida Trindade Dorea. She and social worker Keith Mayara Ribeiro da Silva, gather around him to talk and play.

“Where is the dog? Yes! That’s the dog. Very good Samuel!” says da Silva.

The two encourage Samuel to try and stand up. He struggles. “Get up, use your legs,” says Dorea. “You are lazy. Be strong!”

Samuel ignores the women’s requests. He wants to play. They shift gears. “Where is the ball?” da Silva asks. He grabs it and plays. “He’s very smart!” she says. She and Dorea are trying to get Samuel to use one hand, which cannot open, to play with the ball and then the truck. They work together for 15 minutes to find a way to get him to use his weak hand, but he just wants to play with his dominant hand.

Dorea adores her son and plays with him patiently. But it has been hard, she says. When da Silva started to visit, Samuel could not sit up, he was quite shy and often cried. Da Silva has helped the family access the services and care that Samuel needs: a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, an acupuncturist, and a doctor to check his hearing. These are services the government will provide, but finding them and organizing the appointments is time consuming and can be overwhelming.

Dorea says Samuel has changed since Keith has been coming. “His interaction with people, he’s totally different. He was so shy.” In fact, she says the whole family has benefited. Her older daughter also knows how to play with Samuel and loves to help. She appreciates the support. Raising a child with a disability is hard work. “The visitor is a like a friend who comes every week not just for fun but also to share my concerns,” she says. Her biggest complaint about the program? “It’s too short.”

Will it survive?

There is a maxim in investing that you have to survive short-run volatility to get to the long run, you can’t make money if you don’t have any. Criança Feliz faces the same problem. Child development takes time. It is not a jobs program or a construction project, which voters can see.

The benefits can take years to show up, and politicians have never been known for their long-term thinking.

Alberto Beltrame, the current minister of social development, is a believer. Start early and you shape character, transforming the child into a better young adult and, eventually, creating an improved workforce, he says. You reduce violence and crime. He agrees that Bolsa Familia alone is not enough. It does not promote autonomy, or break the cycle of poverty. What is needed is a two-pronged approach: In the short term, promote training, microcredit, and entrepreneurialism to create jobs. For the medium and long term, Criança Feliz.

“We have a huge array of benefits that we are going to gain with this one program, and the cost is very, very low compared to others,” he says.

In every home we visited, mothers said they loved the support, be it information, toys, or more often, company to share their challenges and triumphs. Priscila Soares da Silva has three children, including six month old Allyce, and another on the way. With Allyce, she says, she has changed her approach to parenting, setting time aside to play every day now. “You raise children your way,” she explains cooing over Allyce. “When you see there are other visions, you see the way you did it was not so right.” She is also refreshingly honest about something all parents know: We do it better when someone is watching. “There are things we know, but we are lazy. When she comes, we are better.”

When I quietly ask her teenage daughter, who is lingering in the corner, what she thinks of the visits, she answers immediately: “She’s so much more patient,” she says of her mother. Her own takeaway: Parenting is hard, and she does not want to do it anytime soon. Priscila smiles at this, agreeing she started too soon, and noting the benefits of the program have extended beyond Allyce and the baby she will soon have. “The program got the family closer.”

Evans, from the World Bank, is watching the program closely. “I see Criança Feliz as a big, bold, gamble about which I am optimistic,” he says. “But I think the measurement and the evaluation is crucial to see if it is a model that other countries want to echo.”

If it survives the near term political turbulence, Beltrame says it can go way beyond the poor to beneiit everyone. “We are trying to make the Brazilian people realize, independent from their level of income, that stimulating children from pregnancy through the first 1,000 days of life is important,” he says. Better young people equal healthier and better adults, who are more emotionally connected and can be better citizens.

With Crianea Feliz, Beltrame says, we have the “possibility of having a new destiny and future for each one of these children.”

The Lancet

Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale

An Executive Summary for The Lancet’s Series

Overview of the Series

The 2016 Lancet Early Childhood Development Series highlights early childhood development at a time when it has been universally endorsed in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.” This Series considers new scientific evidence for interventions, building on the findings and recommendations of previous Lancet Series on child development (2007, 2011), and proposes pathways for implementation of early childhood development at scale.

The Series emphasises “nurturing care”, especially of children below three years of age, and multi-sectoral interventions starting with health, which can have wide reach to families and young children through health and nutrition.

Key messages from the Series

The burden and cost of inactian is high.

A staggering 43 percent of children under five years of age, an estimated 250 million, living in low and middle income countries are at risk of suboptimal development due to poverty and stunting. The burden is currently underestimated because risks to health and wellbeing go beyond these two factors. A poor start in life can lead to poor health, nutrition, and inadequate learning, resulting in low adult earnings as well as social tensions. Negative consequences impact not only present but also future generations. Because of this poor start, affected individuals are estimated to suffer a loss of about a quarter of average adult income per year while countries may forfeit up to twice their current GDP expenditures on health and education.

– Young children need nurturing care from the start.

Development begins at conception. Scientific evidence indicates that early childhood is not only a period of special sensitivity to risk factors, but also a critical time when the benefits of early interventions are amplified and the negative effects of risk can be reduced. The most formative experiences of young children come from nurturing care received from parents, other family members, caregivers, and community based services. Nurturing care is characterised by a stable environment that promotes children’s health and nutrition, protects children from threats, and gives them opportunies for early learning, through affectionate interactions and relationships. Benefits of such care are life long, and include improved health, wellbeing, and ability to learn and earn. Families need support to provide nurturing care for young children, including material and financial resources, national policies such as paid parental leave and provision of population based services in a range of sectors, includlng health, nutrition, education, and child and social protection.

We must deliver multi-sector interventions, with health as a starting point for reaching the youngst children.

Interventions, including support for families to provide nurturing care and solving difficulties when they occur, target multiple risks to development, and can be integrated into existing maternal and child health services. Services should be two pronged, considering the needs of the child as well as the primary caregiver, and include both (are for child development as well as maternal and family health and wellbeing. This affordable approach is an important entry point for multi-sectoral collaborations that support families and reach very young children. Essential among these are nutrition, to support growth and health, child protection, for violence prevention and family support. social protection, for family financial stability and capacity to access services; and education, for quality early learning opportunities.

– We must strengthen government leadership, to scale up what works.

It is possible to scale up projects to nationwide programmes that are effective and sustainable, as indicated by four country case studies in diverse world regions. However, government leadership and political prioritisation are prerequisites. Governments may choose different pathways for achievmg early childhood development goals and targets, from introducing tansformative government wide initiatives to progressively enhancing existing services. Services and interventions to support early childhood development are essential to ensuring that everyone reaches their potential over their life course and into the next generation, the vision that is core to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Risks to early childhood development remain high

Updated definitions of stunting and extreme poverty and improved source data were used to re-estimate the number of children under 5 years in low and middle income countries who are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential. Between 2004 and 2010, this number declined from 279 million (51 percent of children in 2004) to 249 million (43 percent of chiidren in 2010), with the highest prevalence in sub Saharan Africa (70 percent in 2004 and 66 percent in 2010).” An illustrative analysis from 15 countries with available Multiple indicator Cluster Surveys in 2010 or 2011 demonstrates the implications of additional risks to chiidren’s development beyond poverty and stunting, induding low maternal schooling (completed primary school) and child physical abuse by either parent or by caregivers (severe punishment of children aged 2 to 5 years, such as hitting a child as hard as possible, or with a belt or stick). Estimates of children at risk increase dramatically when low maternal schooling and this kind of physmal abuse are added, from 62.7 percent (exposed to risks of stunting or extreme poverty), to 754 percent, with large disparities among sub national social and economic groups.

Global commitments to early childhood development are growing

Since 2000, the rapid increase in publications on the topic of early childhood development surpassed the general trend for health sciences publications. However, only a few of the publications reported on interventions.

The numbers of countries with national multi sectoral early childhood development policies increased from seven in 2000 to 68 in 2014, of which 45 percent were low and middle income countries. There has also been substantial investment in early childhood development during that time period. For example, since 2000 the Inter American Development Bank has approved more than 150 projects for over US$17 billion. From 2000 to 2013, the World Bank Invested $3.3 billion in 273 projects, primarily through health, nutrition, and population programmes. Still, investment falls short of the need and the impact of available interventions.

Early childhood development from a life course perspective

Childhood development is a maturational process resulting in an ordered progression of perceptual, motor, cognitive, language, socio emotional, and selfregulation skills. Thus, the acquisition of skills through the life cycle builds on the foundational capacities established in early childhood.

Multiple factors influence the acquisition of competences and skills, including health, nutrition. security and safety, responsive caregiving, and early learning (Figure 1), Each are necessary for nurtunng care. Nurturing care reduces the detrimental effects of disadvantage on brain snucture and function which, in turn, improves children’s health, growth, and development.

Interventions, including nurturing care, benefit early childhood development

Interventions identified by reviews between 2011 and 2015, and country policies shown to have significant benefits for childhood development, are summarised and organised into packages in Figure 2. Many of the health and nutrition interventions have additional beneflts for improved child survival and growth, as well as reduced morbidnes and disabilities.

Family support and strengthening package

Three elements of family strengthening increase the likelihood that families are able to provide nurturing care for their children: access to quality services (eg, antenatal care, immunisation, nutrition), skills building (29, nurturing care and reduction of harsh discipline); and support (eg, social protection, safety networks, and family support policies)

Caring for the caregiver package

This two generation package emphasises care and protection of parents’ physical and mental health and wellbeing, while enhancing caregivers’ capacnty to provide nurturing care to their child.

Early learning and protection package

This set of interventions integrates the support of young children with parental support and the facilitation of teachers’ and caregivers’ ability to create a nurturing environment in day care and early childhood centres. The emphasis is on quality and family support through parental empowerment, guidance on nutrition and care, and child protection.

Parent support pvogrammes

Parent support programmes that promote nurturing care, particularly those employing several behaviour change techniques, can substantially augment the positive effects on early childhood development outcomes of basic health and nutrition, education, and protection interventions. In contrast, maltreatment during childhood is associated with reduced volume in brain regions involved in learning and memory. Children who receive inadequate care, especially in the first 24 months of life, and often from mothers who themselves were neglected or abused, are more sensitive to the effects of stress and display more behavioural problems than do children who receive nurtunng care.

Multi sectoral interventions improve childhood development

The effectiveness of interventions could be improved by taking into consideration the major insights gained over the past decade about how human development is affected across generations by complex and multi faceted experiences. Sectoral interventions combined with elements of nurturing care and protection, can boost the effect on child outcomes. This approach encourages interventions directed at the family as a unit rather than the child alone.

Learning from early childhood development programmes at scale

An analysis of country programmes illustrates the importance of political prioritisation, legislation, and policy, and the use of existing systems and financing to scale up. These programs focus on addressing poverty, inequality, and social exclusion, starting early. Scaledup early childhood development programmes most often have a vision of comprehensive and integrated services for children and families; have been founded by statute or other formally communicated government strategy; have been funded by government; and have been led by a government department or agency working collaboratively with other departments and civil society organisations.

Framework for action

To promote health and wellbeing across the life course at scale requires interventions provided through several sectors, and a supportive environment of policies, cross sectoral coordination, and financing (Figure 3).

At the heart of this intervention framework is the nurturing care of young children, provided by parents, families, and other caregivers Particularly successful are parent support programmes to promote nurturing care, among which the most widely implemented in low and middle income country settings are the WHOIUNICEF Care for Chiid Development and Reach Up and Learn, a parenting programme tested in trials in Jamaica over the past 20 years and now expanding to other regions.

Affordability of early childhood development interventions

To assess the affordability of including interventions to promote early childhood development in existing health and nutrition services, this paper estimates the additional costs of incorporating two interventions aimed at supporting nurturing care of children into the services identified in the Global Investment Framework for Women’s and Children’s Health.“ The First intervention is based on Care for Child Development and the second on support for maternal depression, because it bolsters nurturing care. The estimated average additional investment needed is half a dollar per capita in the year 2030, ranging from US$01 in low income countries to US$07 in upper middle income countries This represents an additional 10 percent over published estimates for a comprehensive set of women’s and children’s health and nutrition services.

The cost of inaction

At an individual level, the loss of average adult income per year for the 43 percent of children at risk of not reaching their developmental potential is likely to be 26 percent, exerting a strong downward economic pull and trapping families in poverty. At a societal level, the cost of inaction for not improving stunting to a prevalence of 15 percent or less and not addressing developmental delays through preschools and home visits is several times more than what some countries currently expend on health or education respectively. The cost of inaction for not improving childhood development through preschool and home visits rises sharply in settings with fewer preschool services, as well as in settings with a higher prevalence of children at risk of poor development.

Pathway to scale

Action 1: Expand political will and funding through advocacy for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Under the broader SDG umbrella, investing in early childhood development has become not only an aim in itself, but a requisite for achieving many other SDGs (eg, SDGs 1, 5, 10, 16, and 17). For example, SDG Target 4.2 under the learning goal, calling for universal access to quality eady childhood development, care, and pre-primary education, provides unprecedented opportunity to scale up early childhood development services,

Action 2: Create a policy environment that supports nurturing care of young children

Laws and policies can improve childhood development by increasing access to and quality of health and other services, as well as money and time for parents to provide nurturing care for their young children. Five transformative policies for which there is robust global data on levels, duration, coutry coverage, and progress achieved in the past two decades include: 1) paid parental leave for new mothers and fathers; 2) breastfeeding breaks at work, 3) paid leave for parents to care for sick children; 4) income support through a minimum wage; and 5) tuition free pre-primary education. Governments, with the technical and funding assistance of development partners, must also ramp up efforts to analyse their situation, identify gaps and priority areas for intervention, and develop sustainable and costed action plans to promote early childhood development at scale.

Action 3: Build capacity to promote early child development through multi sectoral coordination

Many efforts to promote early childhood development are dependent on non governmental services, which are frequently limited in scope and inequitable in coverage. Interventions are highly dependent on skilled human resources and, unless built on existing service systems such as health, education, social and child protection, face severe supply side constraints. This is illustrated by lessons learned from the scale up between 2000 and 2009 of more than 120 cash transfer programmes in low and middle income countries

We identified multiple examples in health and nutrition services into which interventions to promote nurturing care and improve childhood developmental outcomes have been feasibly and effectively incorporated. Opportunities also exist in other sectors. which is important for the continuity of support from early childhood into schooling. For example, in the education sector, childhood development can be supported through a variety of early learning opportunities, including the prvisiin of child day care services, preschool, and parent education. Interventions can also be provided through child and social protection services, including cash transfer programmes. Thus, the integration of early childhood development interventions into existing service delivery platforms, starting with health, is an effective and efficient way to reach large numbers of families and children.

Action 4: Ensure accountability for early child development services, increase research, and foster global and regional leadership and action

Ensuring the inclusion of a core set of early childhood development indicators, which go beyond access and process and hold stakeholders accountable for childhood development in the global metrics for the SDGs, is of paramount importance. Research that links detailed longitudinal data on policies and programmes with outcomes, allowing causal modelling, is essential.

Conclusion

Strong biological, psychosocial, and economic arguments exist for intervening as early as possible, starting from and even before conception, to promote, protect, and support children’s development. An emphasis on the first years of life is articulated within a life course perspective. High quality care in families, child day care services, and preschools during the earliest years needs to be followed by high quallty schooling and services into adolescence in order to capitalise on interdependence between investments made in the successive stages of the life cycle.

Multi sectoral interventions, with health services as an entry point, are particularly well-placed to reach children early with services that support families to deliver nurturing care and promote, protect, and support early childhood development, Interventions to promote nurturing care can feasibly build on existing health and nutrition services at only a limited additional cost. Coordination with education is needed to promote learning, and with social and child protection, to reach the most vulnerable population:

Evidence consolidated in this series points to effective interventuons and delivery approaches at a scale that was not envisaged before, During the next fifteen years. world leaders have a unique opportunity to invest in the early years for long-term individual and societal gains and achievement of the SDGs. All sectors must play their part in supporting families to prowde nurturing care for children.

However, the time has come for the health sector to expand its vision of health beyond prevention and treatment of disease to include the promotion of nurturing care for young children as a critical factor In the realisation of the human potential of all people.

A groundbreaking study offers undeniable proof that the fight against inequality starts with moms

Jenny Anderson

Children born into poverty start at a big disadvantage. To thrive, they need food, shelter, and health care. But a growing body of evidence shows there are other ways to help close the vast gap in development between poor kids and their wealthier peers: singing, talking, and playing with them.

If this sounds obvious or inconsequential, it’s not. Dealing with the stress of poverty makes it hard for many parents to establish critical bonds with their babies, bonds that lay the foundations for learning, emotional regulation, and relationships. Poor parents are “focused on survival and illness and food and health care,” says Sally Grantham-McGregor, an emeritus professor of international child health at University College London and University of the West Indies. “There’s no time to play with children, it seems frivolous.”

But playing with babies turns out to be anything but frivolous. Grantham-McGregor and her colleagues have spent more than 40 years pioneering research which showed just how much supporting mothers in the earliest days of a child’s life can directly benefit that child. In the 1970s, Grantham-McGregor and Christine Powell, from the University of the West Indies, began a research project aimed at helping young children from poor backgrounds and their moms in Kingston, Jamaica. They designed programs that sent doctors and nurses to visit mothers every week in their homes for two years, bringing toys and books that would help parents become better teachers to their babies and to increase stimulation and play.

The resulting studies found that children whose mothers received coaching made significant developmental gains, and not just in the short term. Twenty-two years later, the kids from one group who had received those home visits as young children not only had higher scores on tests of reading, math, and general knowledge, they had stayed in school longer. They were less likely to exhibit violent behavior, less likely to experience depression, and had better social skills. They also earned 25% more on average than a control group of kids whose mothers had not received the coaching.

The highly influential Jamaica studies have influenced the way many countries think about investing in early childhood development. Brazil, Guatemala, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Bangladesh, and India are all trying parent coaching programs, many based on the Jamaica model. It’s easy to see why some countries are embracing such an approach. After all, it’s in every country’s best interest to ensure that its most disadvantaged citizens get the support they need to live productive, fullilling lives.

“If we want to attack poverty, the place to start is very early in life,” says Paul Gertler, an economist who studied the long-term effects of the Jamaica program. Research shows that poverty affects a young child’s development on multiple levels, from their cognitive and educational performance to their physical health and social and emotional development. Compared to the cost of unemployment benefits or other social safety net programs, “getting it right to start with is cheaper.”

To tackle the lasting effects that inequality can have on a child’s life, we have to start early. The work of Grantham-McGregor and her team in Jamaica offers some of the best evidence we have about what governments can do to support families in an effort to close the intractable gap between rich and poor children everywhere.

The Jamaica experiments

Much as caregivers in poor countries typically want their children to succeed, it’s not necessarily obvious that a key way to do this is to talk and sing to babies, respond to them when they cry, and find other ways to engage them with the world. Consider a 2012 nationally representative survey in Brazil, which asked mothers, 52% of whom were college educated, what things were most important for the development of their children up to three years of age: only 19% mentioned playing and walking, 18% said receiving attention from adults, and 12% picked receiving affection.

The Jamaica studies showed how much these things matter. Through randomized controlled trials supporting poor, often uneducated mothers, the programs dramatically improved children’s development. (The effect sizes have been described as “astounding.”) It expanded the scope of helping poor children from health and nutrition to stimulation and responsiveness.

While the earliest studies used health professionals as home visitors and relatively expensive toys and materials, Grantham-McGregor and Powell quickly changed the program’s model to save money, using community health workers instead of doctors and nurses and homemade toys. Over the course of seven studies, they also experimented with different levels of frequency for the home visits and worked with babies experiencing different kinds of deprivation, including severely malnourished infants and children who had been born at a low birth weight.

They found that the effects of early intervention were both long-lasting and complex. One study tracked 129 stunted children, that is, babies smaller than well nourished children of the same age and gender, who show persistent developmental delays as they grow up. Researchers followed a group of children and mothers that received weekly home visits for two years, as well as other groups of children, including a control group. The study then tracked the children’s development for up to 22 years.

The beneflts of the intervention seemed to vary as the children grew up. After two years, the infants in the visiting group showed significant developmental gains. They actually caught up to kids who were not stunted, an enormous victory.

Over time, however, some of the effects seem to fade or fluctuate. At 7 to 8 years of age, the mean IQ from the intervention group was no higher than that of the control group. By age 11 to 12, the children who had been in the home visiting group had signincantly higher IQs than the control group, but showed no significant improvements in behavior or school achievement.

Then, when researchers tested the intervention group again at age 22, they found a battery of benefits, from higher income to better social skills and less violent tendencies.

Many researchers might have given up when the effects of the early intervention programs seemed to fade. But the benefits resurfaced with a bang, proving that programs that coach mothers can bring about lasting, significant, long-term results. In 2016, Grantham-McGregor and Smith published research in the Journal of Applied Research on Children exploring 12 published trials in five different countries, all of which were based on the original findings of the Jamaica program.

“Jamaica was so important because it shows us the potential of what can be done, the importance of stimulation, and that impacts can be long lasting,” says Amanda Devercelli, global lead for early childhood development at the World Bank. The challenge lay in taking Jamaica’s small program with big effects and making it accessible to the millions of poor families who need it.

The brain science behind nurturing care

In the years since the Jamaica studies, the science underscoring the critical opportunities and risks of early childhood has exploded. Neuroscience revealed the incredible plasticity of the early brain, showing that the foundations for learning opportunities and risks of early childhood has exploded.

Neuroscience shows that the foundations for learning as well as children’s social, emotional, and moral development start as early as pregnancy, and spike in a baby’s earliest years. Like a house, children’s brains need strong foundations. Their brains cannot fully develop without responsive caregiving; people who help them form deep and trusting attachments; and stimulation. Stress during a child’s early years, whether from poverty, malnutrition, neglect, or abuse, can negatively affect their nervous system in ways that can create lifelong problems with learning, behavior, and physical and mental health.

A foundational tenet of nurturing care is the importance of serve and return, which refers to adults’ responses to a child’s attempts at communication, from crying and babbling to gazing and smiling. According to the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child and the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard, “The interactive influences of genes and experience literally shape the architecture of the developing brain, and the active ingredient is the ‘serve and return’ nature of children’s engagement in relationships with their parents and other caregivers in their family or community.”

The neurobiology of early childhood presents a challenge to policymakers. Until fairly recently, policy makers focused their dollars and attention for children on education, usually starting around age five.

But five years old is too late. Research shows that developmental deficits between richer and poorer children can show up in kids as young as seven months. By the time children are in school, the gaps between advantaged children and disadvantaged ones are already enormous. School tends to exacerbate those rifts.

“It’s fairy well established that how well a child has developed cognitively, language development, socially, emotionally, when they enter school will determine to a large extent how well they do in school, and that will have repercussions in adulthood including the intergenerational cycle of poverty,” says Grantham-McGregor. This means the bigger a developmental deficit is early on, the harder it is for poor kids to catch up.

Grantham-McGregor is excited about the developments in neuroscience. But she’s emphatic that it’s already well established that mothers from disadvantaged homes benefit from this kind of help. “The brain research is exciting and it’s helpful because people pay attention,” she said. “It’s good for advocacy, but we were doing these programs before this data came out. And we’re still doing them.”

Expanding the lessons of Jamaica

Economists have joined the neuroscientists, arguing with data, that investing in early childhood is the most cost-effective way to affect long-term outcomes like education and employment.

James Heckman runs the Center for the Economics of Human Development at the University of Chicago, and won the Nobel prize in 2000 for his work in microeconometrics. He has since focused on applying his work to early childhood, including analyzing of the Jamaica research. He estimates that the best investment any policymaker can make is in the earliest years of childhood, because these interventions have the highest payoffs.

“The highest rate of return in early childhood development comes from investing as early as possible, from birth through age five, in disadvantaged families,” Heckman said in 2012. “Starting at age three or four is too little too late, as it fails to recognize that skills beget skills in a complementary and dynamic way.”

The key, it seems, is ensuring that families have the support and tools they need to bond with young children and provide them with engaging environments. “We know from developmental science that families are the biggest builders of skills and abilities in their children in the earliest years,” Heckman tells Quartz. “Jamaica shows that simple but effective parental education can produce better child outcomes.”

Jamaica inspired programs now exist all over the world, as do hundreds of other parenting programs. The biggest issue they face? How to get the strongest outcomes in the most affordable way. In a sense, Jamaica set the bar uncomfortably high for this, due to its small size and the fact that the home visitors were highly trained, and the coaching quite intensive.

“Our challenge now is to take what we learned from Jamaica and design programs that are affordable and feasible in many diverse low-income settings,” says Devercelli from the World Bank.

One study in Colombia looked at whether a more affordable, and scalable, version of the Jamaica program could produce the same effects. It used a large sample, studying 1,420 children aged 12-24 months and their primary caregivers in 96 municipalities, and tied the implementation of the home visits to an existing social protection program, conditional cash transfers. The results showed positive and significant effects on cognition and language, though smaller than the effects in Jamaica, as would be expected.

Meanwhile, in 2012, the Peruvian government implemented Cuna Mas, a home-visiting program based on many of the materials and foundations used in Jamaica and perhaps the best example of Jamaica operating at scale. The program has reached over 90,000 Peruvian families. Early research shows positive and significant effects on children’s cognition and language, as well as parenting practices, although the effects are smaller than in either Jamaica or Colombia.

“As you scale, the impacts are smaller,” says Marta Rubio Codina, a senior economist at the Inter-American Development Bank. Reducing costs to make the programs more affordable for governments means that quality can suffer. The goal, she says, is to figure out how to minimize those compromises. “My bet is that we have to invest in the workforce: training the home visitors and training their mentors.”

To help other countries develop and measure their own programs, an international collaboration of academics headed by the Jamaican group at the University of the West Indies developed Reach Up and Learn, a web-package of materials and curriculum and training manuals which are being used in places from Colombia, India, Peru, and Brazil. One Challenge: making sure the curriculum reflects the country’s culture, including local games, rhymes, songs, and stories.

“Adapting to culture is a lot of work,” says Grantham-McGregor. Pretend games taught to parents may need to be adapted, going to the field to work, or spinning wool, depending on common occupations. Local artists also need to redraw pictures to reflect a given culture’s typical housing, landscape, and style of dress, among other things.

Countries are experimenting with other variations on the program. Bangladesh has built a strong body of evidence that Jamaica-type programs are effective. They are experimenting with small groups of mothers visiting health workers in clinics, rather than having workers come to their homes.

As the long-term benefits of such programs materialize, early childhood advocates are urging governments to find more ways to support mothers and families. In 2016, the Lancet published a series of articles on early childhood highlighting the unique opportunity the early years offer to policymakers. Writing for the Lancet, Pia Britto, an adviser to Unicef, wrote that we now know the critical importance of “nurturing care,” which she defines as a set of interrelated concepts around caregiving, ranging from hygiene to stimulation (talking, singing, playing), responsiveness (early bonding, secure attachment, trust, and sensitive communication), and safety (routines and protection from harm).

“The single most powerful context for nurturing care is the immediate home and care settings of young children often provided by mothers, but also by fathers and other family members, as well as by childcare services,” Britto writes. Thanks to the Jamaica experiments, the world has increasingly accepted this fundamental truth: The best way to help poor kids is to start early, and give mothers and families the support they need.

Life is fraught with danger. School playgrounds should be too – Tom Bennett.

The primary school encouraging children to play with saws and bricks deserves applause. Shielding kids from risk helps noone.

Risk is a part of life, and schools are very much in the business of preparing children for life, not just as scholars but as human beings, citizens and custodians of the world. So news that a primary school in Essex has introduced bricks and saws into its playground to help children understand risk should be celebrated, not condemned.

On the surface there is perhaps much to feel anxious about. But a moment’s reflection is enough to realise that children are frequently exposed to worse things on the way to school, and if a slide and a swing are the greatest hazard our children ever face as they grow up, then I can only assume they are raised in an isolation tank.

No amount of bubble wrap can cushion the fact that the world is perilous. The question is, how do we best equip children to deal with it? The easy answer, the wrong answer, is to attempt the impossible and to hide them, as the Buddha’s father is said to have tried, from death and disease. Risk is everywhere.

Some people blame health and safety rules for creating playgrounds devoid of opportunities to learn from adversity: a curious attitude towards one of our greatest but most maligned social innovations, risk management. Although to many it’s a dreary administrative chore, it is also responsible for countless lives saved, limbs gone unharmed and disasters averted. We mock it at our peril. Some regulations may seem petty, but set that against the benefits of prohibitions and standards that keep us upright and breathing.

In reality, there are few reasons for schools not to help children experience managed risk, and the fear of falling foul of some imagined regulation is often greater than the actual restriction. Of course there is a paradox: we want children to be as safe as possible, but avoiding risk simply makes us more likely to walk into calamity when we encounter it.

Better to teach children to swim than to hope they never fall into a river.

Children therefore need to be exposed to risks. We immunise them against calamity by acclimatising them to a hazardous world rather than locking them in towers. We could even see risk as a portal to opportunity and possibility instead of a hazard.

Playgrounds already contain sharp corners and hard surfaces; rain creates bogs in every park. I’d much rather teach children not to put their hands in a blender than tell them to fear it. The alternative is to create children who dare to do nothing and are terrified of everything. I applaud any school that teaches children to manage risk, to view life as springboard rather than a deathtrap.

It is hard to see how a school could do more to adequately train children to deal with the slings and mud pits of outrageous fortune. Parents, children’s fiercest safeguarders, have praised the scheme. A local councillor has expressed approval for it. My hope is that the school isn’t pilloried by witless controversialists addicted to outrage. That’s a risk far harder to manage.

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Tom Bennett is a teacher, and the Department for Education’s independent adviser on behaviour in schools. He is also the founder of researchED, a teacher led organisation working to improve the use of evidence in education.

And then they’re Back! Just when the Baby Boomer is loving the empty nest, here’s the Boomerang Child – Yvonne Roberts.

For parents who have been enjoying the freedom of living child free, now comes research to spoil it all.

The bedrooms have been redecorated in grown up colours, the 25 year old soft toys chucked out, the washing machine is blissfully underused and, thanks to the apparent current raging addictions of baby boomers, a holiday or two cruising in the Med, the Antarctic, anywhere that avoids dry land have been booked. And then they’re back.

According to a recent study by the London School of Economics (LSE), adult children who return to the family home after a period away often at university cause a significant decline in their parents’ quality of life and wellbeing.

The first study of its kind to measure the impact of the “boomerang generation” looked at 17 countries including France Germany and Italy. Dr Marco Tosi and Prof Emily Grundy applied “quality of life” measures that included feelings of control, autonomy, pleasure and self realisation in everyday life”.

When a child returns home, researchers found the score went down by an average of 0.8 points, an effect on quality of life similar to developing an age related disability such as mobility difficulties. Protestant countries showed a greater decline than Catholic ones, presumably because these nations are more accustomed to living in multigenerational, extended families.

“When children leave the parental home, marital relationships improve and parents find a new equilibrium,” says Tosi. “They enjoy this stage in life, finding new hobbies and activities. When adult children move back, it is a violation of that equilibrium.”

When a grown up child does return, often reverting to tricky adolescence, there is something comfortingly familiar about doors slamming, noise accelerating and wellbeing sliding down the scale, it’s called parenting. But this time round, it can be particularly gruelling.

It’s not easy for a twenty something whose aspirations are battered by ridiculous housing costs, student debt and low wages to have to witness the daily spectacle of baby boomers bent on rediscovering their 60s mojo with late nights and long lie ins, all the while being hard of hearing, digitally illiterate and short on memory.

Repetition and constant interrogation about the strangeness of modern life are the price the returner must pay. “Did you say you’d be back for supper?” ;“Six times.” “What’s that thing that works the TV?”, “The remote control.”

And the rules of engagement are far from clear given that nowadays it’s more likely to be the baby boomer who is rolling a spliff and starting on a second bottle before the end of The Archers.

Last week, a series of notes from parents admonishing children and teenagers was published. “Every time you don’t eat your sandwich, a unicorn dies. Love Dad,” read one lunchbox note. In a boomerang household, it’s more likely the child will leave an admonishing Post It stuck to an empty case of wine, such as drink kill!

Around one in four young adults now live with their parents in the UK, the highest number since records on the trend began in 1996. In the 60s, it was the newly marrieds who returned to live with the in-laws. The UK wasn’t part of the LSE study, but Tosi says refilling the empty nest is likely to have the same impact. And we have history.

In the 18th century, young men would leave home in their teens to serve as apprentices and young women would fly the nest into domestic service, according to the sociologist Wally Seccombe’s history of working-class life, Weathering the Storm. But by the 1850s, the Industrial Revolution had led to mass “in-migration” to cities. “Home ownership was out of the question for the vast majority,” writes Seccombe. Families huddled together, subs and took in lodgers.

In 1851, in Preston, housing costs and low wages contributed to eight out of 10 males aged 15 to 19 living at home. It could take a woman, also a wage earner, up to three days to do the weekly wash by hand. Today, a returning adult child may find that the newly liberated woman of the house has resigned from all domestic duties in the name of self-realisation. The nest is no longer what it was.

That said, one vital element is missing from the LSE study, how long does the return of he boomerang child last? A decade and he or she risks turning into a carer, while a year or two has its pluses, someone to feed the cat while Mum and Dad are paddling up the Amazon or, if finances are depleted by more mouths to feed again, down the Ouse.

There are also surprising trade offs. Research on the brain by two American psychologists, Mara Mather and Susan Turk Charles, involved tests on people up to the age of 80. Results indicated that as we get older our fight or flight dictating amygdala reacts less to negative information. We tend to see the good rather than the bad, not least because time is precious. “In younger people, the negative response is more at the ready,” says Charles.

So in what appears to be an age of perpetual anxiety for adult offspring who are perhaps temporarily suspending the quest for independence, to go back home is not just about cheap living (and potential continued warfare if more than one sibling also rejoins the nest). Mum and Dad may find their equilibrium, newfound hobbies and partnership wrecked, but there are compensations in making room for a broke son or daughter. Like all good enough parents, in tough times they can make things seem not quite as bad as they might otherwise have. Even while queueing for the shower.

The Guardian

Narcissistic parenting. The Six Faces of Maternal Narcissism – Karyl McBride Ph.D. * The Legacy of a Narcissistic Parent – Goop. 

Narcissistic parenting. The Six Faces of Maternal Narcissism – Karyl McBride Ph.D.

The disorder of narcissistic parenting creates significant emotional damage to children. If not understood, children raised by narcissistic parents grow up in a state of denial, thinking it is their fault and they are simply not good enough. If good enough, they would have been loved by that parent. While this is a cognitive distortion about self, the myriad of internal messages gleaned from childhood have a haunting effect on adult children of narcissistic parents. “Will I ever be good enough?” “Am I lovable?” “Am I only valued for what I do and how I look?” “Can I trust my own feelings?” Sound familiar?


The word “narcissism” is becoming more of a household term, but is usually used in disparaging others. It is not funny, sometimes not understood, and often used to describe a haughty or arrogant person. The reality is, true narcissism is a serious disorder that harms children. I don’t find the humor. Narcissists are truly all about themselves and cannot show genuine empathy. They have a limited capacity for giving unconditional love to their children. The alarming effects are cause for concern.

Identifying parental narcissism is not about encouraging another category of victims. Carrying anger, blame, resentment or rage for that parent is not the point. It is about love, education and understanding so that healing can happen. Children and parents need some common points of connection to be able to recover and move forward with a deeper template. Being able to identify childhood internal messages is significant to thousands. Often a narcissistic parent is not a full-blown narcissist, but has many narcissistic traits. The impact of understanding can assist in repairing past damage. It is true that full-blown narcissists are unlikely to change, but the adult child can do his or her own internal work for recovery.

That said, the six faces of maternal narcissism are identified as: the flamboyant-extrovert, the accomplishment-oriented, the psychosomatic, the addicted, the secretly mean, and the emotionally needy. A parent can be a mixture of these types and often that is the case.

The Flamboyant-Extrovert: This is the mother about whom movies are made. She’s a public entertainer, loved by the masses, but secretly feared by her intimate house partners and children. She’s the show biz or stage mom and is all about performing. She’s noticeable, flashy, fun and “out there.” Some love her but you despise the masquerade she performs for the world. You know that you don’t really matter to her and her show, except in how you make her look to the rest of the world.

The Accomplishment-Oriented: To the accomplishment-oriented mother, what you achieve in your life is paramount. Success depends on what you do, not who you are. This mom is about grades, best colleges and pertinent degrees. But… if you don’t accomplish what she thinks you should, she is deeply embarrassed and may even respond with fury and rage.

The Psychosomatic: The psychosomatic mother uses illness and aches and pains to manipulate others, to get her way, and to focus attention on herself. She cares little for those around her. The way to get attention from this kind of mother is to take care of her. This kind of mother uses illness to escape from her own feelings or from having to deal with difficulties in life. You cannot be sicker than she. She will up the ante.

The Addicted: A parent with a substance abuse issue will always seem narcissistic because the addiction will speak louder than anything else. Sometimes when the addict sobers up the narcissism seems less but not always. The bottle or drug of choice will always come before the child.

The Secretly Mean: The secretly mean mother does not want others to know that she is abusive to her children. She will have a public self and a private self, which are quite different. These mothers can be kind and loving in public but are abusive and cruel at home. The unpredictable, opposite messages to the child are crazy-making.

The Emotionally Needy: While all narcissistic mothers are emotionally needy, this mother shows the characteristic more openly than others. This is the mother you have to emotionally take care of which is a losing proposition to the child. The child’s feelings are neglected and the child is unlikely to receive the same nurturance that he or she is expected to provide for the parent.

If your parent had some of the above traits, it is important to note that they were not born that way. They likely had their own insurmountable barriers to receiving love and empathy when they were children. This does not take away your pain. We cannot ever condone child abuse. But, this knowledge does help accomplish a deeper understanding.

If your mirror is empty and your childhood lacked in proper nurturing, remember as an adult that recovery is the answer. It is mostly internal work that must be done. The healing five-step recovery model is outlined in Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. Once we understand, we can move forward and build an internal mother who is always there when you need her. Unlike the narcissistic mother who is always there when she needs you.

Will I Ever Be Good Enough? – Karyl McBride Ph.D.

Are you in relationship with a narcissist?

Adult children of narcissistic parents commonly grow up with this nagging feeling that they flunked childhood and it’s all their fault. They internalize the message they are not good enough no matter how hard they try.  While everyone has times they don’t feel up to par in some area of life, this “not good enough” feeling that emerges in childhood and results from narcissistic families is different. It seems to permeate the total being of the person and causes damaging emotional effects and life-long patterns in adult life.

Where does this feeling come from and how do we understand it? From twenty-five years of research, which culminated in the writing of, Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, I found several significant factors seen in adult children raised by narcissistic parents. When raised by a narcissist, there are some common psychological dynamics that ensue for the child.

In the narcissistic family usually the parental hierarchy is reversed so the child is taking care of the parent instead of the other way around. When a child is put in the position of parental care taking, they are being asked to do a job they cannot do based on their maturity and development. In this impossible role of “parentified child,” the child learns that he or she is not capable of changing or fixing their parents which results in an internalized message of “I’m not good enough.”  This same message is internalized in adult children of alcoholic families. This, of course, is not usually understood until adulthood.

A narcissist cannot give empathy and unconditional love to their children. This causes a child to keep trying to find ways to win this approval and attention to no avail. As time passes, the child assumes it is about him or her and feels unlovable. If my own mother or father can’t love me, who will?

Narcissists are not in touch with their own feelings and don’t embrace and heal those feelings. This causes them to project feelings onto others. If angry, sad or lonely, for instance, the narcissist will project the emotion onto their children or other people leaving the poor unsuspecting “other” wondering what hit them. For example, a narcissist may experience anger and instead of own the anger, they ask, “why are you upset with me?” If you are a young child and experiencing this, it not only causes emotional confusion but also creates a sense of shame without knowing why.

Because narcissists are all about image and how it looks to others, this becomes more important than the person or the child. It becomes about how you look and what you do, rather than who you are as a person. This causes the narcissistic parent to not emotionally tune into the child and that child grows up with a parent who does not know who they really are. The child is left with unmet emotional needs and proceeds to adulthood with an empty emotional tank. The emotional development is stunted.

Narcissists don’t tune into feelings and therefore do not acknowledge and validate their child’s feelings. This causes the child to repress or deny feelings, and to determine that their feelings are not important. It translates into adult life as the child grows up not trusting themselves or their own feelings and thus creates crippling self-doubt.

Because narcissistic parents tend to use their children as a reflection of themselves, it is a mixed bag if the child does well or not so well. If the child does badly in life or makes mistakes, the narcissistic parent is mortified because it reflects on them as being a bad parent. If the child does well and outshines the narcissistic parent, then it can cause a jealous reaction in the parent. Imagine how confusing this is to the child. They can’t win either way.

Being critical and judgmental is the way of the narcissist. They do this to make themselves feel bigger and larger than they are. It manifests from their own fragile sense of self and/or lack of self. When around narcissists you will notice them being critical of others on a constant basis, including their own children. Children of narcissists grow up to have a great deal of sensitivity around being judged and criticized by others and understandably so. It feeds into the “not good enough” feeling that began early in life.

You may have been raised by a narcissist or are currently involved in some relationships with narcissists now. One way to determine is to assess if you constantly feel “not good enough” in the presence of this person. It may be a spouse, significant other, sibling, family member, co-worker, boss or friend. If you plug in some of the factors above, you will begin to know how to spot a narcissist and can learn to protect yourself. How do you feel in the presence of this person?  A healthy relationship brings out the best in you and you are allowed to be your authentic self. You don’t feel put down or judged but rather feel valued for who you are. The real you comes alive in a healthy connection.

If you grew up with the “not good enough feeling” and feel you were raised by a narcissistic parent, we welcome you to join our recovery work beginning with learning more about the insidious disorder of narcissism. See additional resources below that can be of assistance.  There is always hope for recovery and not passing on the legacy of distorted love to your children and grandchildren. If you are wounded from your past, through recovery you can become inspired by it as well. It can be the catalyst for changing how we treat our children and others we love. It does take a village of support but it always begins at home.

Psychology Today

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The Legacy of a Narcissistic Parent – Goop

When Dr. Robin Berman was first establishing her own practice, she intended to work solely with kids—until she realized that she couldn’t do much for little ones without re-parenting the grown-ups. Per Dr. Berman, who is also an associate professor of psychiatry at UCLA, the vicious cycle can be intense. But there’s hope, which she details in a compelling read, Permission to Parent: How to Raise your Child With Love and Limits, which combines her own insights with feedback from kids and adults who turned out well. The themes of the book are straightforward and profound: In short, this generation’s take on parenting—overbearing, enabling, overindulgent—is a pendulum swing in the opposite direction from the way they were parented (ignored, abandoned, unseen).

One of the more vicious cycles that Berman has addressed in her practice is the legacy of the narcissist parent—because it often begets narcissistic children. Here, her thoughts on how it manifests, plus ways to break the cycle.

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I was in the grocery store when a three-year-old girl burst into tears in line after her mom said that she could not have candy. Looking agitated, her mom barked, “I have no time for this nonsense right now!” Then came the clincher: “Why do you always do this to me when I am in a hurry? You sure know how to ruin my day.”

Ugh. My heart sank. I felt badly for this little girl, not because her mom said no to her candy request, but because her mom was so blinded by her own feelings that she could not have empathy for her daughter. A less narcissistic mother would have taken her daughter’s hand, looked her in the eye and calmly said: “I get how much you want this candy, but we don’t have candy before lunch.” If the mom had shown she understood her daughter’s feelings, instead of dumping her own, the girl would have felt heard and the tantrum could have subsided.

Children need to feel seen, heard, known and cherished. To be adored for who you really are is the highest form of love. Giving unconditional love is our greatest legacy as parents. Long after we die, our children will be able to tap into the feeling of being celebrated for their true selves.

By spewing out her issues, the mom skipped over her daughter’s emotions and made it about her. But as parents, we often have to set aside our own feelings to be in service to our children. Children learn when parents mirror their feelings and help them understand their experiences. When narcissism interferes, the mirror is reversed. Narcissistic parents need their kids to mirror them.

WHAT IS NARCISSISM?

Narcissism runs on a spectrum, from healthy narcissism to malignant narcissism, with a lot of gray in between. Many people can have a narcissistic trait or two without actually being a narcissist.

HEALTHY NARCISSISM is basically good self-esteem. You believe in yourself and what you can do, and your self-evaluation is realistic. You can empathize with other people, and understand their feelings and perspectives. You aren’t devastated by criticism, mistakes, or failure. Your sense of self can withstand life’s ups and downs and people’s opinions.

MALIGNANT NARCISSISTS have a very fragile and reactive sense of self. They are extremely self-involved and have a highly inflated view of themselves, which masks profound vulnerability and shame. They are fueled by praise and admiration, and deeply injured by criticism and even honest feedback. Benign comments or constructive criticism threaten their fragile self-esteem and can trigger anger. All of these qualities interfere with a narcissists’ ability to form healthy relationships. Those partnered with narcissists can feel quite lonely and exhausted by trying to shore up their partners and tiptoe around their sensitivities.


MODELING KIDS IN YOUR OWN IMAGE

Narcissism doesn’t have to be absolute. It can show up in little ways and often under the guise of doing “what’s best” for your children or giving them opportunities you were deprived of when you were little. For example, it’s understandable that you’d want to enroll your kids in soccer because you didn’t get the chance to play, but you also have to notice if they even like soccer. You might bring home clothes in monochromatic colors because that’s your style, but you have to notice what colors your child gravitates to. While you want your child to attend your alma mater because it worked for you, think about whether you’ve asked if it will work for him. To get narcissism out of the picture, make sure your motivation stacks up with what your kid wants.


HOW NARCISSISM INTERFERES WITH PARENTING

Narcissists have a way of making everything about them—they take up all of the air in the room. Their profound need for attention and praise subverts everyone else’s needs. Unchecked, a parent’s narcissism eclipses a child’s feelings. Narcissistic parents take their children’s every feeling or action personally. These parents are easily angered when a child does not agree with them or mirror them. Parents with narcissistic tendencies are so sensitive to praise and admiration as fuel that it makes them overly sensitive to criticism. So children learn to tiptoe around these emotional minefields, trying not to trigger that anger, or worse, have their parents withdraw love.

Perceptive children will also pick up on the emotional vulnerability of their parents. They will compliment their parent or try to be a perfect reflection of them. They hope that taking care of mom or dad will shore the parent up enough so he or she can eventually get back to taking care of them. With all of that care directed at parents, these children will likely lose touch with their own emotions and needs.

STEALING YOUR KIDS’ EXPERIENCES

Audrey was trying on prom dresses in a department store dressing room. The store was getting ready to close, and Audrey was acutely aware of her mom’s desire to buy a dress and leave. Her mom’s need to be done dampened Audrey’s excitement about finding a dress she felt good in for this special rite of passage. Her mother said, ”I found the perfect dress for you!” and held up an ugly dress with red and white stripes. Audrey took one look and immediately hated it. Masking her disappointment, she put it on anyway.

“It’s perfect, I love it!” Mom said, not even seeing how unhappy Audrey was. Now the girl was in a bind. Which mirror should she attend to: The literal one, which clearly showed a dress she would be embarrassed to wear, or the mirror she was used to reflecting and pleasing?

The daughter tentatively expressed her discomfort. Her mom’s agitation flared. Audrey reflexively changed her tune: ”I guess you’re right, it does fit well,” she said flatly. Her mom smiled, feeling much better. And for just the moment, Audrey felt better, too. But not really.

On prom night, Audrey walked self–consciously down the stairs to greet her date. His disappointed first words—“Red Stripes?”—were crushing.

THE EMOTIONAL TOLL OF A NARCISSISTIC PARENT

Long after the prom dress was discarded, Audrey’s memory of catering to her mom’s needs on her special night—and many other occasions—lingered. Children like Audrey often end up in therapy. They are trying to discover who they really are. They often don’t trust their instincts, and they have trouble expressing their feelings. The boundaries between mother and child become so blurred that surviving childhood means catering to their parent and subverting themselves. Children like this worry that if they assert themselves in their adult relationships, they will risk losing love. This is what happens when a parents’ narcissism engulfs their children.

But narcissism can show itself in the opposite way: Neglect. These parents are so self-obsessed that their children feel invisible. Without being seen, these cannot develop a stable sense of self and may grow up to be narcissists themselves.

BREAKING THE CYCLE

If you grew up with narcissistic parents, never fear, the legacy can end with you! Your parents’ mistakes can be rocket fuel for your own development.

– First, you have to grieve the loss of the parent you never had. Really grieve the fact that you didn’t get the parent you needed, the one who put you and your needs first. Part of that requires releasing the fantasy that your narcissistic parent can change and eventually give you what you need. They can evolve and grow, but they may never evolve enough to meet your deepest needs. Therefore, managing expectations is key, particularly when you see glimpses of the healthy parent you wish you had had, but in fact those glimpses are often not sustainable. Accept that your parent was limited—and could not give you unconditional love or even deep empathy because she could not get past herself to truly see you. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, the anger and the sadness. Emotion has the word motion in it; allow your emotions to move through you. You might not have lost your parent to death, but you lost what could have been—you lost an opportunity to be truly mothered—and that is really a profound loss. Accepting this, rather than denying it, is the first step in opening your heart to healing.

– You are going to need to discover boundaries—where you begin and your parents end—to free your authentic self. When you choose who you want to be, rather than who your parents wanted you to be, you break free from their narcissistic grip. Tolerate their discomfort, even if they make a lot of noise. You are not misbehaving, rebelling, or rejecting them. You are being you, the real you—maybe for the first time. This is the first part of breaking the cycle. Next, you don’t want to repeat/generalize the relationship that you had with your narcissistic parent to your coworkers, partner, or friends. Realize where you are meeting the needs of other narcissists in your life, real or imagined. Sometimes children of narcissists assume that every person they’re close to will need the same kind of hyper-attention and appeasement that their parent did—and unconsciously begin doing mental backbends to please others. At times you may be tapping into the expectations of a narcissistic boss or partner, and reflexively playing that familiar role. At other times you may be making erroneous assumptions about what someone important to you really needs—perhaps they don’t want you to mirror their opinions or they don’t need you to sugarcoat your real feelings or soften constructive criticism. Breathe, pause, give yourself some psychic space and then test it. Try just being frank, try not to rush in and take care of their feelings. If being different from your loved one feels uncomfortable—or if you feel you’re risking love with that stance—just notice it. Watch how much stronger your bond is than what you secretly imagined it to be. This is the gift of evolving past the scene of the original crime—your own childhood. Surviving childhood meant taking care of the narcissist and swallowing your feelings. But now as an adult you can begin to surround yourself with people that you feel safe and at home with—like soul mate girlfriends—who know and love the real you, and this can be deeply transformative.

– Children of narcissistic parents often wonder if they are really loveable. You are! Start loving and caring for yourself in ways that you wished your mom or dad had loved and cared for you. Start paying attention to what really matters to you; what makes you feel alive and moments when you feel authentically you. Maybe you will need help mothering yourself. Maybe that means getting re-parented by a therapist, or maybe the healing comes from an emotionally reparative romantic partnership. Maybe you have a friend’s mother who is nurturing to you, or a mentor who celebrates the real you. All of these people can become part of your collective parent. No one person is ever capable of meeting all of your needs so start building your collective parenting community. And once you have learned to mother yourself, you will be able to mother your child.

Your journey is to love your children for their true, glorious, separate, authentic selves—and to give them what you may have not gotten enough of. It will not only be beneficial to them, it can be quite healing for you. You will grow and evolve enough to ask yourself, in difficult situations: “Is my reaction more about my child’s feelings or my own? What does he or she need right now?” This will prevent you from reacting with anger or withdrawing love, as your parent may have done to you. You are now a cycle breaker.

Conscious, mindful parenting is the ultimate in damage control. When you get your ego out of the game, you can step back enough to see the soul of your children. Just nurture that, and watch them soar.

Goop.com 

Say ‘NO’ to your child or they’ll struggle in school – Dr Amanda Gummer. 

Child psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer says children who are ‘helicoptered’ by their parents tend to play up at school to get attention. 

Working with a group of primary school teachers recently, letting off steam during the first weeks of the summer holidays, I listened, appalled, as they reeled off their latest nightmare classroom dealings.

But it wasn’t horror stories of pupils jumping on desks or hurling things around that shocked me most. Far worse was the attitude – and behaviour – of the parents. And not those at the less privileged end of the spectrum, either.

No, the wild, unruly children are increasingly likely to be the progeny of so-called “helicopter” parents – those who give intensive, one-on-one attention to their child and pander to their every whim, fuelling a “little emperor” syndrome.

They are ruthlessly ambitious for their child’s future – failing to realise how badly their mollycoddling is preparing them for the compromises of real life.

Don’t believe me? Then listen to this: “My child is a genius – his bad behaviour is an outlet because you don’t challenge him intellectually.” That was the astonishing response of more than one mother confronted by exasperated teachers.

While we’ve long known this hovering parenting style can create children unable to make decisions or exhibit independence, what’s less often discussed is how aggressive and difficult the children of helicopter parents – often middle-class, professional and, to their minds, devoted to their darlings – can be at school.

Why? These children struggle in the classroom because they cannot cope with not being number one. So they play up to try to get the attention they have been raised to believe ought to be all theirs.

Worse still, these otherwise respectable parents refuse to take responsibility for the child’s actions. Behavioural problems, no matter how shocking, are down to teachers.

Mum and Dad needn’t get their hands dirty.

As a child psychologist helping professionals better understand the psychology behind how kids learn, I’m no longer surprised to see teachers frustrated to tears by the disgraceful attitudes of some pupils – and their parents.

Thanks to teachers’ diligence, the majority of children eventually settle into a world where they are no longer the star in their own solar system. But a substantial minority struggle terribly, with catastrophic effects on learning and development.

Sound dramatic? Not when you look at the latest statistics from the Department of Education, which tell us that, last year in England alone, an astonishing 35 children a day were permanently excluded from school.

And these aren’t just unruly teens: just under a fifth of those expelled were at primary school; some were as young as four.

To my mind, this startling increase can, at least partly, be put down to the linking of two facts: among these children, a great many can’t even tie their own shoelaces or recognise when they need to put on their coat.

Simultaneously, a large portion – a third of the 1,145 expelled from primary school last year – get their marching orders after physically assaulting a teacher.

Imagine: little ones so helpless they need assistance to go to the loo and put on their shoes, yet who are utterly unafraid to biff their teacher on the nose.

Here we have children who are not being given the basic life skills to look after themselves throwing their weight around in the classroom and causing mayhem. It’s a toxic combination.

As worrying is the fact that these figures are going up. The number of primary school children expelled has more than doubled over a four-year period. Meanwhile, 6,685 children at state schools in England were permanently excluded in 2015/16, up from 5,795 the year before. It’s all too easy to hide lazy parenting behind claims that your child is a genius, or has unchannelled exuberance. Regardless, one fact remains: no matter how gifted your child, if they can’t concentrate and work alongside their peers, they aren’t going to get very far in the classroom, let alone in life.

Too many of these children have never heard the word ‘no’ levelled at them at home.

Their parents may well be time-poor – perhaps feeling guilty for working long hours – so are loath to play the bad guy. Maybe they’ve bought in a little too enthusiastically to increasingly child-centric attitudes. But the reality is many youngsters misbehaving in class are being brought up with little discipline or boundaries by doting parents. Small wonder they think nothing of defying the authority of other adults.

You might think such children are just plain naughty. But I don’t believe any child is born naughty. In my opinion, bad behaviour, such as the sort I’m talking about, comes from parents.

(To be clear, I’m not talking about children with diagnosable medical conditions that have a direct impact on behaviour and/or learning styles. Schools and parents need additional support to help these children thrive.)

But I often wonder whether helicopter parents realise how damaging their attentions are.

Yes, they may believe they are providing their child with the best start in life – but such an approach can cause a wealth of behaviour problems.

For example, when a child refuses to put on their coat, if their mum or dad carries it round all afternoon ‘just in case’, rather than letting their son or daughter get cold, the child never learns to take responsibility for their bad decision. The idea that someone else will always put things right takes hold in their mind.

And how can a child be expected to behave in the dinner hall when, at home, they’re allowed to get up and down from the table as they please, never finishing a meal? The only difference is, at school, their teacher won’t be there with a chocolate bar when they’re hungry mid-afternoon.

And if a child has always had a parent clearing dangers from their path, instead of letting them take the odd tumble, of course they’ll think it’s OK to run around a classroom. Yet when they trip over a chair, they’ll blame everyone but themselves for the fact they got hurt – because no one thought to move the chair in the first place.

When it’s all spelt out like this, we can start to see why so many employers are complaining that today’s young people – the so-called millennial generation, the first to emerge from an upbringing by helicopter parents – are more unemployable than ever.

Some over-indulged children display their struggle to cope without the attention they’re used to in a different way. They can become withdrawn when they start school, which negatively impacts on their learning and relationships with classmates – and this can be as damaging in the long-term as aggression and misbehaving.

Of course, everything these parents do comes from a place of love. As a mother of two teenagers, I know how tough being a modern parent is. Most of us really are simply doing our best.

But sometimes, a parent’s best efforts are just too much. However honourable their intentions, these overly devoted parents do their offspring no favours, depriving them of the chance to learn the kind of life skills their teachers aren’t paid to impart.

Children need rules, boundaries and opportunities to feel the cold, go hungry and fall down and hurt themselves, so they can learn from their mistakes. If they are deprived of those basic life experiences at home, it makes educating them a far greater challenge for their teachers than it ever need be.

NZ Herald

Pretty much just common sense really. 

Tim Dowling: ‘One masters the art of raising teenagers …’

… Just in time for it to be of no use. But I have learned a few things over the past decade. A very few

As with any phase of parenting, one masters the art of raising teenagers – in my case, teenage boys – just in time for it to be of no use. But I have learned a few things over the past decade. A very few. These are all of them:

1) Every aspect of parenting a teenager stirs up memories of what it was like to be a teenager.

2) Adolescent boys have an overwhelming need to reduce their father from a figure of authority to a figure of fun.

3) It is vital to create an atmosphere in which your teenagers feel they can be totally open and honest with you, because they are amazing liars. If you think you can tell when your 16-year-old is lying to you, it’s only because that’s what he wants you to think.

4) As children progress through secondary school, your authority over them gradually diminishes, until you find yourself parenting on a consultancy basis.

5) Even when your authority dries up completely, you still have money. 

6) On occasion, teenagers do seek out firm parental authority in a bid to counteract peer pressure: they long to be told they can’t do something, because they actually don’t want to do it.

7) While there is no single secret to a happy life in a houseful of adolescent boys, I cannot overstate the importance of colour-coded underpants

The Guardian