Sunday, April 17, 2011

Staying in touch with the kids within and around me... an un-edited essay spasm

                 There’s no doubt that early childhood development plays an integral role in the future success of a child.  Although many see the need for the adult figure in fostering a child’s foundation, how the adult effectively accomplishes such a task is not a complete science, nor will it ever be.  However, through rigorous studies, interviews, and hands on experiences conducted by various practitioners— medical doctors, psychologist, psychiatrists, teachers, neurologist—came better understanding on the development of a child’s brain.  Children have different genetic make-up, biological, social and physical needs, come from different environments, react with different people in different ways, are taught certain lessons, have different diets, learn and grow at different rates—all of which shape the way a child reacts to certain situations, thinks, learns, and handles adversity.  Knowing that each child has different needs and skills will allow adults to implement specially crafted lessons that are developmentally appropriate, meaning young children will be taught according to their level of understanding and specific needs.
                Many important concepts in regards to child brain development can be found in the article, Understanding Brain Development, by Mariannina Mogar, Alice Nakahata, and Stephen Santos Rico.  One concept deals with the development of the central nervous system (CNS) and how understanding its development can help adults in shaping developmentally appropriate practices for children.
                Advances in technological gave birth to X-ray machines and other equipment that allowed specialists to “see” and monitor activity within the brain.  Among many discoveries, one shows that brain development followed a specific pathway from simple to complex.  That is, development occurs from motor, visual, touch, and auditory lobes to pre-frontal development where judgment and reasoning takes place.    Simple development begins within child development while complex (judgment) begins from about eleven years of age.
                 With underdeveloped judgment, children are unable to comprehend abstract processes that adults mistakenly assume they’re able to comprehend.  For example, if a child steals a cookie from his friend or pushes him because he cannot get the cookie, he may be viewed as “bad” or “naughty,” in the eyes of an adult.  What many adults fail to recognize is that the little boy has no sense of morals (for morals develop in unison with the prefrontal cortex which begins developing around age eleven) and also that the little boy has biological needs to fulfill.  He may be reacting in such a way as to relieve stress he may experience from a wide array of factors such as an inability to properly convey his thoughts out to the other kid or from stress in finding a way to settle down his hungry tummy.  Sharing and stealing are both foreign concepts to him since he does not yet have the neurological equipment to comprehend his situation.  Due to the adult’s inability to recognize his level of comprehension, they immediately expect for the child to understand his faults.  As a result, a child may become frustrated from being yelled at or from the inability to understand what the adult wants or why they act the way they do. 
                As stated in lecture, when a child is placed in an uncomfortable situation that he/she cannot handle, they switch to fight/fight mode, a mode in which the body draws particulate attention to the need of surviving (brain stem level).  In this mode, the child further loses what’s left of their awareness and control and as a result, a child is most likely to burst into tears or hit someone—they’re more likely to exhibit “inappropriate” behavior.  In a similar fashion, an adult who encounters adversity on the road may not be able to deal with the situation and as a result, hit whoever they’re mad at without first thinking about the consequences that may follow.  In both cases, irrational action is expressed.  The only difference is the adult had has a moral foundation that the child lacks.  Even though she may have had an ability to tell right from wrong, her fight/flight mode forced her to make irrational judgments.  Children are unlikely to learn in brain stem mode. Therefore, factors that stimulate brain stem mode are discouraged.  Rather, practices that make children feel comfortable within are encouraged.  When children are able to see that adults understand and are encouraging, they are more likely to intrinsically participate and engage in problem solving.
                Firmness and setting boundaries are more effective while supplemented with kindness.   Instead of criticizing, demanding, blaming, or belittling a child, the adult should allow the child time to contemplate their situation and figure out possible solutions to their problems.  Of course, the adult will help facilitate the process by reciting open ended phrases and asking open ended questions such as “I can see that you’re upset” and “What’s the problem”.  If a kid is throwing toys maniacally, address the situation with “toys need to stay in our hands”, as compared to “No throwing the toys!”  A child is then able to understand the reasons to why rules exist and will be more likely to adhere to them as compared to simply following them without knowing why.  Integrating kindness along with teaching will also prevent a child in becoming offended and uncomfortable and therefore will lead to a learning friendly environment.  Such an environment will help facilitate trust in adult, relaxation, and self-concept—all of which play integral parts in guiding and nurturing human growth.
                 As I bulldozed through the concepts stated above, many observations and personal life experiences made a lot more sense.  It’s easy to forget the important fact that everyone develops at their own rate and carry with them their own emotional baggage.  In the process of forgetting such an important concept, I became stuck on the notion that some kids really are bad.  I sometimes fail to recognize the conditions in which “bad” children grow up.  For example, my little cousin Thomas, ever since he could walk, wreaked havoc every place he visited.  I thought he was possessed by an evil supernatural force, but reflecting back on his scenario from a different lens, I was able to understand that Thomas was never taught why he shouldn’t do the things he did.  Instead, his mother met each one of his mistakes with punishment and never addressed his needs and rewarded him when he was “good”.  As a result, he never was integrated in abstract thoughts that would have otherwise helped him understand the concepts of trust, respect, discipline, and consequences.  He was behaving for all the wrong reasons.  Today, I can see how the methods in which he was raised directly influenced him as a teenager.  He frequently cuts classes with his friends (friends that are up to no good) and disrespects his parents. 
                When a child’s needs aren’t met, they may seek ways in which to fill the voids later on in life by any means, no matter what the consequences.  For example, a child that later on decides to join a gang feels that that he will be comforted and have a family that cares for him and his needs.  In his “family,” he is able to establish power (bullying weaker kids), respect (feared), and a sense of belonging (each gang member watches out for one another)—all of which are in some sense, the needs that were deprived of him as a child and all of which are important for child development.  The difference is his judgment is unique to the gang in which he’s in.  Since is gang is against the norm, he subscribes to beliefs unique to the gang and operate as a group apart from the dominant society.  As witnessed day by day, such a gang “family” lacks in many areas that ultimately leave the boy right where he started, if not worse off.  In another example, some children that lack happiness in their home may chose to fill their void through the use of drugs.  The examples stated above are only few instances that illuminated the moment I learned that behavior shouldn’t be analyzed solely on its own for answers, but rather should be analyzed in unison with the person behind the behaviors. 
                It’s easy to overlook the fact that children are just like adults in the sense that we both have needs to be fulfilled—emotional, social, physical, etc.—and react in similar ways when those needs aren’t met.  Just as kids have their own ways in releasing tension, so do children.  I’ve noticed from past experiences that it’s important for me to have someone who cares about me to support me through my hardships.  If I’m deprived of a supportive loved one, I start thinking negatively and find myself making frequent visits to the freezer for vanilla ice cream.  I’ve also noticed in many movies that kids who are yelled at by their parents tend to run away.  In this situation, I see that a child doesn’t have a sense of belonging and tend to run away to another family member’s house—a member who they confide in,  are comfortable with, and  who understands them.
                Another important point I failed to recognize prior to learning about how a child's brain develops is the fact that children experience stress just as adults do.  I think many people have preconceived notions that children who misbehave are inherently uneasy and will inevitably throw tantrums (“bad genes”).  As adults tag this notion with that of the nature of a child, they will fail to see that these behaviors are really a reaction to stress and a cry to fulfill their biological needs.  As stated in many studies, stress causes high levels of Cortisol to be release into the bloodstream—children and adults alike.  Notated in the article, Understanding Brain Development, high levels of Cortisol can be destructive to neurons and synaptic terminals.  During times of stress, light should be brought upon being able to decipher the cause and relating it back to their needs.
               No matter whose child I will deal with in the future, I’ll make an extra effort in looking at their makeup, their underlying layers along with visible behaviors expressed in able to better understand the needs of children.  As demonstrated before, many adults treat children certain ways they think will be most beneficial for the child.  Despite their good intentions, certain ways in which parent’s treat their children (punishments, praise) can be counterproductive.  Understanding a child as best as I can will enable me to better deal with conflict, as I will have better understanding the child’s needs and therefore will be able to address them more effectively.  I’ve learned that there is no definite formula in fostering of success in a child, for all children are all different from one another in every way.  Although I do know for a fact that the concepts I’ve picked up in class are definitely parts of the secret in effectively impacting a child’s life in a positive way.  These tools will definitely make things a lot easier for me in laying out foundations—foundations necessary for the future of child’s social, emotional, academic, physical success.  In addition, such lessons can also help me understand the needs of others a little better (serves as a good frame for patience).

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