Early on in my career I had the great privilege to work as a case manager for Early Intervention. That’s where I was able to witness the amazing strength of caregivers and children firsthand. One mom I particularly remember was really struggling with a difficult toddler. He was having emotional regulation problems far beyond typical toddler tantrums, and she did not know how to support him. As a single mom, she was overwhelmed, working multiple jobs trying to provide for her family. And he was at risk of abuse as she struggled to find ways to cope with his behavior.
The first step was to help offset this family’s fiscal challenges. Getting them enrolled in SNAP, WIC, and getting some help with bus vouchers and utility bills made a big difference. Once that major stressor was out of the way, the mother was much more able to address her own emotional needs, so that she could better attune to her child. After six months, the little boy displayed improved emotional regulation and the ability to bond with his mom. What a turnaround for a struggling family.
Witnessing these early development skills in infants and toddlers really crystallized the importance of very young children’s social-emotional development to me. The early years are foundational for children to learn and grow their innate skills and emotional resilience that will carry them throughout life’s hardships.
Resilience is our ability to bounce back from trauma, and to emerge stronger from tough situations throughout our lives. It’s also a core part of children’s social-emotional health – and it depends deeply on what happens to children early in life as their brains are being built.
When caregivers like parents, grandparents, foster parents, and early teachers have the resources they need, they can connect well with their children and promote strong social-emotional development. They themselves are confident and enjoy parenting, and their children flourish.
Unfortunately, the patchwork of systems and programs we have in place in North Carolina often do not serve the healthy social-emotional development of infants and young children.
In order to have a society that is economically stable, we need citizens that have emotional intelligence. Children’s healthy social-emotional development is critical to all of us, whether they grow up to be our doctors, our police officers, or our country’s leaders. As a society we need to ensure that children and caregivers have the tools they need to promote healthy development, prevent trauma, identify issues early, and receive the supports to course–correct.
That’s why NC Child has launched the NC Initiative for Young Children’s Social-Emotional Health, together with many other leaders in early childhood. Over the coming months, I look forward to sharing the journey with you as we bring together leaders from the many sectors in North Carolina that address children’s social-emotional development. I’ll be writing blogs quarterly about the mental health system for North Carolina’s very young children, what’s working and what isn’t. I’ll also be exploring specific policies and systems changes that can help ensure that every child in North Carolina has the opportunity to experience emotional wellness.
I know that our many partners are just as excited as I am to roll up our sleeves and move North Carolina into a new frontier for very young children through policies, services, and system change.
Morgan Forrester is the director of NC Child’s NC Initiative for Young Children’s Social-Emotional Health, and our in-house emotional wellness cheerleader.