'What we want for our kids' is the phrase that finds its way, in one form or another, into almost every speech politicians make, and this year, like every election year, is no different. But does our nation really have a vision for what it wants for our children? On the recommendation of a friend, I am reading The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans DeWaal. It is an intriguing read for anyone who is interested in social issues and creating a society that supports children and families.
DeWaal takes on assumptions that are perpetuated within our nation's myths and legends about the selfishness of humans, and the ability of humans to succeed entirely independent of society. These assumptions are reflected in concepts such as 'pulled himself up by his boot straps,' survival of the fittest, and that greed is good. These ideas, also, make it one way or another into many political stump speeches, but they do not reflect the reality of young children's lives nor what happens in the average early childhood classroom.
Young children thrive, not when they are told to pull themselves up by their boot straps, but when they have loving, responsive relationships surrounding them. As DeWaal affirms "The point is that we are mammals, which are animals with obligatory maternal care. . . This bond provides the evolutionary template for all other attachments, including those among adults." (DeWaal, page 11) There are few policies in the United States that support the bond between parents and their children so it is up to Early Childhood professionals to advocate for those policies in the long run, but also for practices within the field that support the relationship between parents and children.
Practices that support the parent-child bond include daily sharing of information, continuity of care, the teacher and parent knowing one another as people, regular conferences, and flexible child care days and hours are practices that most Early Learning facilities can be implemented with relative ease. But policies, such as job sharing, flexible work schedules, and paid parental leave will be a longer battle. However, such policies must be implemented if we are to truly promote the welfare of children and families, and should be considered a critical part of any comprehensive Early Childhood system.