U.S. Economist: Don’t neglect the power of healthy families for a healthy economy

Much talk surrounding the foundations of a robust national economy ignores the role of healthy families, especially those in which one parent may not participate full time in the paid workforce.

University of Chicago (U.S.) economist James Heckman, however, is known for his research into how a nation that invests in policies that promote healthy families is investing in its future economy. While he supports expanding early child care and education programs, he does not disregard the critical value of a healthy childhood environment in the home.

Related: API’s Eight Principles of Parenting – Provide consistent and loving care

This Q&A-style article from AEI dives headlong into Heckman’s research-backed support for family-based, healthy child development in light of overcoming inequality and facilitating social mobility, reducing the need for government-sponsored welfare programs, and empowering the next generation of workforce. Heckman’s ideas are an unique approach to typical economy-strengthening discussions. Here are some takeaways:

  • Conditions that each person is born into plays a fundamental role in the trajectory of that person’s life. This goes beyond genetics and encompasses even what happens earlier in the family tree before his/her birth.

Related: Historical trauma, breastfeeding, and healing with Camie Jae Goldhammer

  • Biological brain development may be at the core of child development, but which way that brain development goes depends on that child’s interaction with parents, siblings, other people and society. Families can nourish brain development. They can also suppress it.

Related: For better or worse, parenting changes your child’s DNA

  • Nourished brain development creates a foundation of early skills that facilitate the accumulation of skills (learning) through life – through education, interaction with others, work experience, etc. Among these early skills are self-control, perseverance, and the ability to guide oneself. Once a person has these skills, it’s easier for him/her to learn and gain other skills. A good start to a life is almost self-propelling.

Related: Nurturing doesn’t spoil kids

  • While the brain never loses the ability to learn, it’s much harder the older you get. Babies learn the easiest, so that’s where the investment into his/her life has to happen because that’s what is setting the foundation of his/her life. This is not something you can hold off on and come back to later; if a baby doesn’t get the right foundation, he/she can still learn when older but it will be much harder because the foundation is shaky.

Related: Dear little me, a letter from my grownup self

  • Research is seriously lacking in the economic returns of a family’s impact on child outcome. Research shows high returns (13% per annum) on early childhood programs, but Heckman predicts that the returns on a healthy family’s impact on child outcome would far outpace (an estimated 30-40%) that of early childhood programs. Early childhood programs are only successful when they “turn on” the parents – the program empowers the parents, the parents get engaged. Reaching the mother, specifically, is the key.

Related: What really matters when it comes to daycare

  • Parent education and support are important for all families, though the disadvantaged will accrue the most benefits. What defines advantages in parenting? Rather than higher income, good parenting involves attachment, interaction, and engagement with the child – this is what builds the foundation of learning starting in infancy.

Related: A need for paid parental leave

  • When considering universal child care, especially in a society where mothers are encouraged and expected to work full time outside of the home, there is real danger of high-quality parenting being replaced by mediocre child-raising in child care centers. This has happened in Canada and elsewhere. Our society has to guard against this.

Related: Parental presence, real-life

  • While some high-quality child care programs are very generous in their investment into the child’s future, child care centers can’t compare to the value of a parent in that child’s life. The key is to support parents to provide the home life that best supports their children.

Still Face: A lesson in responsiveness and relationship repair for ALL caregivers

How important is it that we give our infants and children intentional presence?

The third of API’s Eight Principles of Parentingrespond with sensitivity — is one of two common threads that run through all 8 principles. The other is to provide consistent and loving care.

Research that began with the late psychologist John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory back in the 1950s has shown the critical need for consistently loving, sensitive responsiveness to develop a secure parent-child attachment — that component that forms the foundation of how our babies and toddlers go on to relate to others…in all relationships…through the rest of their lives.

“That initial responsiveness, that interaction between the father and baby, are keys to the baby’s success as a child and an adult.” ~ Richard Cohen, PhD, director of Project ABC at the Children’s Institute

So, yeah, it’s important.

Picture Alternatives has partnered with the Children Institute in Los Angeles, California, USA, in replicating the famous Still Face Experiment developed in 1975 by Ed Tronick, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts’s Infant-Parent Mental Health program in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

A new video shows the first-ever application of the experiment on fathers and their babies — clearly showing that infants need sensitive responsiveness from all caregivers:


Just as important as consistently responding with sensitivity is relationship repair as needed:

“The infant can overcome it. After all, when you stop the still face, the baby starts to play again. …When you don’t give the child any chance to get back to the good, there’s no reparation and they’re stuck in that really ugly situation.” ~ Ed Tronick, PhD, featured in a 2009 Zero to Three film.

No parent is perfect, and there will be situations that arise that take our attention away from our children. Life happens, and sometimes we may be less responsive than we wished, but it’s OK. Babies and children can recover quickly when their caregiver works to repair the relationship when needed.

In short: How you respond to your child’s expressed needs when you make a mistake makes a big difference in what they’re learning about with the give and take, and repair, of relationships.

A New Year, a time to pause and reflect

fireworks-behind-tree-1436469-mLike cooking turkey on Thanksgiving or giving flowers on Valentine’s Day, I cannot help feeling the tug at this time of year to pause and reflect.

Yes, January 1 is just the next day after December 31. But it feels like a beginning, and the part of me that loves rituals and traditions always comes forward with thoughts and questions:

  • Does the way I live reflect what I believe?
  • Do I treat my family the way I want to be treated?
  • Do I take care of myself with as much care, time and energy as I do my children?

These are life-long questions and not easily answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

In thinking about this New Year, I imagine my answers turning from “sometimes yes” to “mostly yes.” And what can I do to make this true?

The simple act of reflection helps — checking in with myself regularly and remembering to ask the questions. Taking a moment each day, week or month to revisit and think about the choices I’m making.

This is not an exercise in perfection, but rather the setting of an intention to live with more love, forgiveness and joy.

What are your questions?

Control or the lack thereof

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Sept. 24, 2008, but it puts into perspective why new motherhood can sometimes be hard to adjust to.

lady---childrens-art-2-1422726-mI’ve always liked to feel in control of my life. In my pre-baby days — back in the mists of time — I used to work full time in various office environments. My desk was always tidy, my in-tray cleared by every evening, my out-tray filed away neatly. Any outstanding work issues were jotted down in my diary at 16:45 so that my head was clear of work details, and when I walked out that door every evening, I left work behind me!

And then I became a stay-at-home mammy.

This job is 24/7. My desk is a mess and covered in unmatched baby socks — don’t ask!. There’s no in-tray, which I suppose that’s a good thing, as it would be overflowing. There is no out-tray, although also no need for one as no task ever gets completed. My work diary has been replaced by a meal planner and a wall calendar.

My new boss is…how can I put this…quite changeable in her outlook on life. I never know, each morning, whether we will be continuing the project we started yesterday — covering the patio in chalk drawings — or liaising with other bosses and their employees — toddlers & their mums — or lunching in exotic locations — the garden, the porch, the stairs — or indeed whether I will be given the opportunity to sit down for lunch at all.

Yes, this new job is much more complex than my previous positions, and it is almost impossible to feel as if I am in control day-to-day, because truth be told, I’m not!

It’s been a huge change for me, and to be honest, it’s been a bit hard to get my head around at times. One minute I’m managing projects, organizing schedules, socializing with workmates and in control of my life. The next, I’m holding this tiny helpless bundle who I love so completely yet have no idea how to communicate with.

It’s been a huge learning experience for me and coming up to Littlepixie’s second birthday, I only now feel that I’m starting to catch up with myself.

But I’m learning to accept that I don’t need to be in control of everything. Littlepixie has taught me that.

I am slowly learning to stop sweating the small stuff. There are some things I like to keep control of: For example, we have a sit-down dinner every evening. And there are some things I let go of: For example, our sit-down dinner may involve sitting on the floor at Littlepixie’s kitchen table.

I know many of our friends and family think our parenting style is too intensive, that long-term breastfeeding is too much work, that cosleeping robs myself & my husband of our marital bed, that carrying Littlepixie will make her clingy and break my back, that having our dinner at a child’s table is pandering to her needs and spoiling her, and so on.

But I think the fact that all of this feels so right to us has made this new job easier. We haven’t had to fight against our instincts. We are letting them lead the way.

So I suppose while my head is only just now starting to catch up, my heart has been in control the whole time!

Half Pint Pixie