By Alanna Ketler, Collective Evolution
- The Facts: The first 1000 days of a child’s life are the most important for the proper development of their brain. Many parents lack this knowledge and understanding of what it truly takes to ensure their children are getting what they need.
- Reflect On: The outcome of this massive experiment from Brazil may change the way parents are raising their kids worldwide. Children who come from loving, supportive, attentive families will have a better chance of creating a good life for themselves.
For nearly two decades Brazil has undergone the world’s biggest experiment to prove that by teaching poor parents how to love and nurture their infants it will dramatically influence what kind of people they become as adults. Through this guidance and support, Brazil is hoping to change its current trajectory of violence, inequality, and poverty through a method of prevention through love and care.
It is no secret that babies need to be loved and nurtured, but over the years there have been many other opinions and popular books about the Cry It Out method, or leaving babies to fend for themselves, placing them in their crib alone, out of the danger/fear of potentially smothering your baby in their sleep. Also, there is a general lack of knowledge and understanding about how crucial your time, care and attention is to a developing baby.
Because of this, many babies and children haven’t received an adequate amount of love and care as is needed for healthy brain development. In fact, babies can’t fend for themselves, and when they are left to cry they have drastically increased levels of cortisol, which can have a detrimental impact on their development, potentially altering who they could become later in life.
The leader of this project, Osmar Terra, became obsessed with the question of how humans develop about 30 years ago. He was a cardiologist in the 90’s and would often read research papers about the neuroscience of early childhood. After entering politics and becoming mayor of Santa Rosa in Rio Grande do Sul in ’92 he continued to ponder this question, leading him to a master’s degree in neuroscience. Terra wanted to find a way to tackle poverty head-on.
“In every single activity, I always ask myself, ‘What is the public policy that can be more transformative?’” he says. “How can we most dramatically improve the quality of life for our citizens, their health, their education?”
After much research, he came to realize that the answer to that question starts at the very beginning, during the pregnancy and the first few years of a child’s life.
There is a ton of groundbreaking research that shows how love and a sense of safety experienced by a baby will directly impact how the child brain will become wired. Adversity, especially that which is persistent and stress-triggering such as neglect and abuse will hinder development. This can result in poor mental, emotional and physical health, educational attainment and even early death. All of this important information and research is ultimately what led Terra to create Crianca Feliz, a highly ambitious parent coaching and guidance program that was launched in 2017. The goal is to try and reach four million pregnant woman and children by 2020.
Have A Look
“If a child feels emotionally safe and secure and attached they explore the world in a better way. The safer they feel, the safer their base, the faster they learn,” he says.
“I believe that this is the solution, not only for Brazil, but for any country in the world in terms of security, public security, education, and healthcare,” says José Medeiros, a senator from the state of Mato Grosso who heads the parliamentary committee on early childhood development. “It’s a cheap solution.”
Terra’s claims are more dramatic. “We will change the world, starting from the very beginning.”
The First 1,000 Days
Scientists have discovered that the first 1000 days of life are the most crucial for brain development.
According to Quartz.com
Many people, rich and poor alike, have no idea what infants are capable of. Psychologists and neuroscientists believe they are creative geniuses, able to process information in far more sophisticated ways than we ever knew. But for that genius to show itself, the baby needs to feel safe and loved and to have attention.
Medeiros explains how he viewed parenting before he went to the Harvard program.
”I raised my kids as if I were taking care of a plant,” he recalls. “You give them food, you take care of them.” He says he did the best he could, but “I did not have all this information. If I had encouraged them, stimulated them more, I would have been able to contribute much more to their development.”
He is hardly the exception. A 2012 nationally representative survey in Brazil asked mothers, 52% of whom were college educated, what things were most important for the development of their children up to three years of age. Only 19% mentioned playing and walking, 18% said receiving attention from adults, and 12% picked receiving affection. “So playing, talking to the child, attachment, it’s not important for more than 80% of the people who are interviewed,” says Harasawa, the director of Criança Feliz.
What Can We Take Away?
Could a lack of knowledge around what it really means to be a parent and raise a child be one of the biggest contributors to the crime, domestic violence, poverty and a wide array of other damaging behaviours that we are seeing globally? Could it really come down to parenting and the care that is given during the first 1000 days? It is very likely.
Unfortunately, many of the parents without the knowledge were likely raised by parents who didn’t have this knowledge either. Brazil’s ambitious plan will serve as a powerful experiment that the whole world can take note of. This truly has the power to give parents the tools they need to raise their kids in such a way that they have a better chance of reaching their highest potential. Let’s not forget that the children of today are the leaders of tomorrow. This is very important work, Bravo Brazil for leading the way for this powerful potential for real change!