Love builds brains

Lisa Goudy
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Dr. Jean Clinton of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. speaks about the importance of love and face-to-face interaction for childhood development at a luncheon put on by the Moose Jaw South Central Regional Intersectoral Committee at Wood Acres on May 16, 2014.

Positive environment needed to shape young children

Nothing should replace face-to-face interactions with kids.

“We’re seeing lots of parents on iPads and on their iPhones and we need to let them know that face-to-face time rather than FaceTime is really, really important, that the building of the brain is built through face-to-face,” said Dr. Jean Clinton of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. following a presentation at Wood Acres on Friday. “One of my key messages is that love builds brains.”

She spoke to a capacity crowd of about 90 people downstairs at Wood Acres as part of the Moose Jaw South Central Regional Intersectoral Committee’s early childhood luncheon on Friday.

“Jean Clinton is a world-renowned expert in the area of childhood development and the early childhood development is what lasts a lifetime,” said Christine Boyczuk, one of the organizers of the event. “We’re, as a community, trying to focus on healthy outcomes for children zero to five … (Clinton is) really, really incredible.”

Clinton said a positive environment is needed to shape the brain of young children. Those activities might include reading to babies and children, picking them up and talking and singing to them. Playing and interacting with others are the best ways that kids learn.

“I think that people have got the impression that getting kids ready for school means make sure they're reading, make sure they're writing, but the best way to get kids ready for school is for them to have good social and emotional development — the ability to get along, the ability to share,” said Clinton. “We know now that social and emotional developments are a better predictor of success in school than IQ.

“So love builds brains. What matters most is relationship and environments that are nurturing high-quality environments that know that kids have a drive to learn and grow.”

During her presentation, she said the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends having zero screen time for kids under age two and one hour for kids between the ages of two and five.

“When kids are not getting the one-to-one, eye-to-eye contact, you don’t have the same connections happening,” she said. “You can’t connect your brain to a TV … We learn to regulate our emotions by being regulated by others.”

She mentioned according to a report, in Saskatchewan, 69 per cent of parents with kids under the age of three are in the workforce. That is one of the highest rates in the country. She added 85 per cent of parents with kids under the age of five are in the workforce.

However, in Saskatchewan, Clinton said there is childcare available overall for 18 per cent of the population. For children under the age of five, there is childcare for seven per cent.

Afterwards, she said there is more work that needs to be done.

“I think in Canada we’re not as far ahead as other countries. The Swedes, Denmark and others are doing a much better job, but we are making progress as a nation. International studies have told us we’re not doing so great,” said Clinton. “People are paying attention and I’ve seen — even in the number of years I’ve been coming to Saskatchewan — lots of work being done, but lots more to go.”

The core of what parents and educators need to do is build relationships.

“That’s really important throughout, but particularly in the first years, kids need to establish the pathways, the neural pathways,” said Clinton. “Then it needs to be followed up and continued.”

Follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy.

Organizations: McMaster University, Moose Jaw South Central Regional Intersectoral Committee, American Academy of Pediatrics

Geographic location: Wood Acres, Hamilton, Saskatchewan Canada Denmark

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