A Marvellous Christmas Gift

It’s amazing how we develop as human beings. One of the ways is via a pattern called ‘serve and return’. The baby communicates to its parents through facial expressions, gestures, babbling, and words, and adults who are responsive ‘return’ these ‘serves’ with similar vocalising, gestures, and emotional engagement.

However, if a caregiver’s response is unreliable, inappropriate, or absent, this under-stimulation can disrupt the developing brain architecture and adversely affect later stages of development, learning, behaviour and health outcomes. The baby doesn’t learn how to play the game of connecting and communicating.

To learn effectively, children need to feel calm, safe and protected. When this attachment process is interrupted, the child’s brain places an emphasis on developing neuronal pathways that are associated with survival, before those that are essential to future learning and growth.

Earlier still, when the egg is in the fallopian tube, it’s already being affected by the mother’s nutritional and hormonal state, and throughout pregnancy those influences continue.

If the mother is living with ongoing stress (as opposed to normal stresses), the developing foetus anticipates being born into a stressful world in which it will need to be hypervigilant.

Mind-bogglingly, before conception itself, the environments and experiences of our parents and even of preceding generations can impact our development by altering gene expression, and these changes seem to be heritable. In a sense, our genes and those of earlier generations listen to the environment and switch on and off accordingly.

So it is becoming clearer that our remarkable adaptability or plasticity, especially early in our development, can help or hinder us depending on a host of factors beyond our awareness, choice or control.

Positively, the forces at play that help shape us once we are born can be beneficial, counteracting and perhaps outweighing disadvantages. As a society and individually we can take advantage of this by bringing constructive influences to bear on those around us, particularly the young.

Healthy environments, solid relationships, responsive care, safety and stability will all make a significant difference for the better – they represent some of the best gifts we can offer each other.

Reference: The First Thousand Days

On the school website there is advice on finding information and support for a range of needs (Current families > Counselling).

Martin Graham
School Counsellor