The things we experience daily can have major effects on our behavior and mental health. Consider how you feel when someone cuts you off in traffic or is rude to you for no reason; these experiences can have a direct impact on your emotions at that moment, but if these experiences and emotions compound, they can have lasting effects on your mental health. While most adults are better equipped to recognize and make changes to alleviate some of that stress, children are much less capable of recognizing how these experiences can affect them and then make changes.
Adverse experiences are not only concerned with how interactions affect our emotions but also include food insecurity, poverty, homelessness, abuse, and neglect. Research from The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard has shown that the toxic stress experienced early in a child’s life can have a cumulative effect on an adult’s physical and mental health and that the emotional well-being of young children is tied directly to the functioning of their caregivers and the environment. In short, the more negative experiences during childhood, the more likely developmental delays, and other problems may have a negative impact in adulthood.
The Center for Disease Prevention and Control reports that, on average, 15% of children, two to eight years old, in the United States have a parent-reported mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. As educators, we are on the front line of working with these children and their families. We witness children in these situations on a daily basis and have the duty to ensure that we are doing everything we can to intervene and help mitigate these negative effects.
One way that the state of Colorado is hoping to support these vulnerable members of our society is through the creation of legislation that would provide support not only for young children who experience mental health impairment but also for early childhood and mental health professionals to develop the necessary skills to support these young children and their families. Currently, part four of Colorado House Bill 1053 outlines plans to increase the number of qualified mental health consultants to support young children and their families. In addition, this bill will also provide early childhood educators serving this community with the support they need to create the high-quality learning environments these young children deserve.
This blog post is a call to action to support programs and initiatives, like HB20-1053, that improve the lives of families by strengthening financial support programs and family-friendly work policies, and by providing greater access to early intervention programs. We need to create statewide initiatives that foster safe and supportive learning environments for all children and their families by providing access to high-quality early childhood programs for everyone. We also need to work together to build caring relationships by strengthening social and emotional education programs and creating caring communities to support children and families in need.
Master Early Childhood Candidate