Caring for children: Meeting basic need is not enough

Scientists have identified that caregivers can promote the healthy development of children by providing both cognitive and emotional input. The ability to learn is enhanced by mental information such as words, music, and puzzles. Dynamic inputs, such as hugs and praises, promote a nurturing, supportive relationship between the child and caregiver. A lack of one or both types of information can hinder the child’s growth.

This does not mean that parents must spend every minute of their waking hours with their children. Research has shown that kids can thrive with more than one caregiver. A parent who is rested and shares their childcare duties with others will be much better than a stressed-out stay-at-home parent.

It is perfectly normal for parents to make mistakes. This can be a great teaching moment: Acknowledging a mistake as a parent sends the message that children are not “bad” and do not have to take responsibility for their parents. It also fosters trust between children and parents.

What can we learn about aging from studying children and teenagers? Does there exist a link between the mental health of young people and their physical health later in life? What are some changes we can make in the lives of our children to improve their health and reduce their risk of mental or physical illness?

Sean speaks to Terrie Moffitt, Avshalom Kaspi, and their husband-and-wife research team about these and other questions.

Terrie Moffitt is a Professor of Psychology at Duke University. She also holds the position of Professor in Social Development at King’s College London. She is interested in the effects of a lifetime’s worth of mental and behavioral disorders on aging processes.

Avshalom is a Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience and Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience at Duke University. He also holds the position of Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology, & Neuroscience. His research includes how childhood experiences influence aging and how genetic differences among people affect the way they react to their environment.

It’s easy to mistake symptoms of DCD, such as pushing, having difficulty lining up for lunch re, fusing team sports, etc., for bad behavior. It’s important to understand the different ways that problems can present themselves. Catherine Finniear, the Early Years Team Leader and Reception Teacher at my school, told me that it is important to talk to parents when planning support. “They know their child better than anyone else and can offer expert advice on how best to help them.” Together, teachers and parents can identify problems and develop strategies that are best suited to a particular child.

Together, parents and educators can identify issues and develop strategies that may best suit a particular child.

The practical suggestions are helpful, but to truly support young people with DCD, parents, and children need more formalized support. The UK research shows how little help is available. A study found that 43% of parents who had children diagnosed with DCD received no help whatsoever. In a survey of adolescents with DCD, 37% did not receive formal education support at school. It is important to take legal measures such as a support program led by a special education coordinator or an occupational psychologist, who can devise strategies and adjust classrooms. The difficulties that children face may snowball with time. The study explains that secondary problems, such as reduced participation in activities or less supportive friends, are common in DCD. These can lead to a downward spiral of poor academic results and less engagement at school.

One of the biggest barriers to learning is the lack of awareness that DCD can affect a child’s ability to learn. Teachers and parents can collaborate to create manageable tasks for children that will engage them in learning activities. Without formal support in educational settings for young people with DCD, they are likely to fall further behind.


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