For those of you I haven’t had the opportunity to meet yet, my name is Belen, and I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the newest addition to the Infinity Kids team. My blog writing has been delayed due to my annual visit to Argentina, where I was born and raised, and where I go back to visit yearly. I recently returned feeling motivated and excited to meet this amazing community that Tala and Amanda have created!
Before I left for Argentina for the holidays, Tala and I attended a meeting hosted by Children and Families of Orange County with the purpose of discussing the use of the Early Development Index (EDI) and its findings. The EDI is a valid and reliable kindergarten-readiness measurement tool that gathers and analyzes community-level data on the developmental strengths and vulnerabilities of children. It is implemented to better understand how young children are doing upon entry into school and which developmental areas require the most attention.
According to the EDI, Orange County children are making steady, encouraging strides in terms of developmental readiness by the time they enter kindergarten. However, there is still significant room for improvement. For example, in the area of Physical Health and Well-Being (measured by the EDI), more than half of kindergarteners are ready in the sub-category of Gross and Fine Motor Skills, but one-third are not ready to enter the school system with the abilities necessary to accomplish the goals suggested in the curriculum. Another discouraging finding is that one in four kindergarteners are vulnerable or at risk in the area of Language and Cognitive Development.
You may wonder how this data relates to my field of practice and if there is any input I can offer in this matter. The answer is simple. Consultation for child psychotherapy is becoming more and more frequent. It’s when kids enter the school system that, although their nervous system is not fully developed, they are expected to meet certain standards. At a very young age, children will be required to stay still, listen to teachers, and follow directions in a group setting in order to access formal education. Depending on genetic predispositions but also on the variety and quality of experiences that kids have been exposed to, upon entering kindergarten they will either exhibit ability to adjust to the new environment, or start showing signs of behavioral and emotional maladjustment. Examples of maladaptive behaviors or emotions first diagnosed in childhood that interfere with academic success are the infamous Attention Deficit Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder.
Most recent EDI studies show the lowest percentage of students ready for school are in the communities of Midway City at 36.2%, followed by Santa Ana at 44.1%, and to our surprise, Laguna Beach at 45.4%. If economic factors are not a good indicator of exposure to positive experiences, thus school readiness, I can’t help but wonder what makes kids in these areas struggle meeting the standards of formal education?
The debate during CFCOC’s last meeting revolved around what steps to take given these alarming statistics. From a Marriage and Family Therapist perspective, I think there’s still a lot to be said about secure attachment as a key factor in the way the infant’s brain organizes itself, and how that primal bond contributes to the child’s social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development.
Infinity Kids and other community partners are working together with the CFCOC to enhance access to programs, services, and settings in which children and parents can learn and play together to foster positive attachment and healthy development. Some speakers at the CFCOC meeting suggested that political action might be required, some others identified community leaders that could develop state of the art early intervention programs at hospitals, pediatric clinics, daycares, and preschools. As we keep discussing approaches and come up with strong and effective strategies, the brains of our children keep developing and the window of opportunities are closing.
Although many families in OC are well educated and financially solvent, technological development has brought drastic changes into the manner of relating and interacting with one another. Society has changed with the advancement of science and technology and so have relationships. Because it still takes a whole village to raise a child, I’d like to emphasize the role of the community in enabling a secure attachment between an infant and their caregivers. And by community I mean each of us, regardless of the role we play in society. It would be nice if we could all develop a sense of accountability for child rearing, understanding the community, societal, and global dimension of parenting.
It’s hard spending a whole day stimulating a young child alone. But the truth is that the idea of the nuclear family (a household of just parents and kids) is a recent invention. Our ancestors always lived in extended families near grandparents, siblings, and cousins. For thousands of years, parents had a village to help them. As many modern conveniences as we have nowadays, they will never make up for the loss of family, neighbors, and sense of community. It’s no wonder why parents feel so overwhelmed today.
So my advice to all the parents out there feeling exhausted with the huge responsibility of raising a child, don’t be shy to ask for help! All the family members and friends of a parent with young kids, please offer that help before that parent screams in despair! All the nannies, babysitters, pediatricians, nurses, lactation consultants, day care, preschool staff, and any other trained adult in contact with a child; don’t hesitate to validate those parents reinforcing positive parenting practices, and guide the families in the right direction when needed. Let’s all get involved, and create a community of child rearing support!
Belen Guillen, LMFT
Infinity Kids Marriage and Family Therapist