The first years last a lifetime.

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Children"s experiences in their earliest years affect how their brains work, the way they respond to stress, and their ability to form trusting relationships. During these years the brain undergoes its most dramatic growth, setting the stage for social and emotional development. Language blossoms, basic motor abilities form, thinking becomes more complex, and children begin to understand their own feelings and those of others.

From the first day of life to the first day of school, a child grows at a phenomenal pace.

Did you know? A child"s brain doubles in size in the first year, and by age three it reaches 80 percent of its adult volume. 1, 2 The back-and-forth interactions of babies and adults shape a baby"s brain architecture, supporting the development of communication and social skills. 3, 4 What happens in the first years of life is directly related to children"s long-term cognitive, emotional, and social outcomes through adulthood. 3, 4
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All aspects of child development are interconnected (Figure 1.1). For example, a child"s ability to learn new information is influenced by his ability to interact appropriately with others and his ability to control his immediate impulses.


Thinking About the Whole Child: Domains of Development Figure 1.1
Emotional, cognitive, social, and physical development are interrelated and influence each other.

What is the CANDLE Study?

In 2006, The Urban Child Institute and the University of Tennessee Department of Preventative Medicine started a large-scale study of 1,500 pregnant women, starting in their second trimester, to identify what factors during pregnancy and early childhood affect a child"s development and ability to learn. The CANDLE (Conditions Affecting Neurocognitive Development and Learning in Early Childhood) team recruited women ages 16–40 who were between 16 and 28 weeks pregnant to participate, drawing from Regional One Health, other community clinics, and the general community. Women had generally healthy pregnancies and, similar to Shelby County mothers who recently gave birth, were mostly African-American and low-income women. The CANDLE study follows these women and their children until the child"s fifth birthday.

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In Shelby County, the CANDLE Study has collected biological, physical, and behavioral data to help us better understand these connections and their collective influence on child well-being.

What is social and emotional development?

Social and emotional development is the change over time in children"s ability to react to and interact with their social environment.

Social and emotional development is complex and includes many different areas of growth. Each is described in more detail below:

temperament: the way a young child acts and responds to different situations, caregivers, and strangers attachment: the emotional bond between a child and caregiver social skills or social competence: the ability to get along with other people emotion regulation: the ability of a child to control his or her emotions and reactions to the environment.
Milestones of Social AndEmotional Development from Birth Through Four Years Old Figure 1.2
Source: Adapted from

Figure 1.2 provides examples of key social and emotional milestones for young children. Children develop in all of these areas of growth from birth through four years. These milestones help us know whether children are developing "on time." They also help us know what to expect children to understand and do at certain ages.

Question: What should parents do if they are concerned about their child"s development?

Answer: Social and emotional milestones let us know if a child is gaining skills in the time frame we would expect. However, sometimes children will be a bit early or a bit late on some of these milestones. If parents have concerns about their child"s development, encourage them to speak to their pediatrician.

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What is temperament?

Have you ever noticed how babies have personalities, even from the day they are born? Temperament is the beginning of personality. It typically refers to the way a young child acts and responds to different situations, and how he or she interacts with caregivers and strangers. Most children fall into one of three temperament categories: easy, slow-to-warm-up, and difficult. 5

Easy babies, for example, have regular sleeping times, are easily soothed when upset and are generally positive.

Slow-to-warm-up babies are more hesitant in new situations and with unfamiliar people.

Difficult babies are easily agitated and very sensitive to all sights and sounds.

Given that children have different temperaments, parents and other caregivers need to learn how to create environments that best support their children"s temperaments. 6

Data fact:

Nationally, more than half (55 percent) of infants display at least one characteristic of a difficult temperament most of the time, suggesting that many of these characteristics are common (Figure 1.3). For instance, most infants want attention and company. However, when an infant demands attention through crying, fits, or whimpering most of the time, this may be a sign of a difficult temperament. And, together these behaviors make caring for difficult babies challenging for many parents. In fact, 22 percent of infants displayed two or more of these characteristics most of the time.

Source: Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), 9-month data wave (2001–2002), parent report of child displaying characteristic "most times."

Question: What does a child who is slow-to-warm-up or difficult need?

Answer: Keep the home and outside environment as predictable as possible. At the same time, gently expose the child to new experiences. This may help foster the child"s social and emotional development in a way that supports the child"s unique needs.


What is attachment?

Attachment is the emotional bond between a child and caregiver. 7, 8 The ability to form an attachment is present from birth and plays two important roles for young children. First, it motivates children to stay near a caregiver, which keeps them safe. Second, it allows children to depend on their caregiver as a source of support as they explore their surroundings. Children who do this successfully have what is often called "secure attachment."

The development of a secure attachment is important for many reasons:

Promotes a positive relationship between a child and caregiver Decreases risk for social and emotional problems later in childhood and adulthood Encourages healthy relationships outside the home (e.g., child-care providers, friends, other adults) Fosters positive, trusting relationships in middle childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. 9, 10 Data fact: Nationally, about two-thirds (62–66 percent) of infants and toddlers have secure attachment styles. 7, 8

Source: NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development: Phase I, 1991-1995

What is social competence?

Social competence refers to a person"s ability to get along with others and adapt to new situations. 11 Children learn social skills very early in life that determine their social competence. For example, babies make eye contact, imitate facial expressions, and respond to voices. As children age, they interact more with other children and adults, which helps them to learn additional social skills.

Nationally, the percentage of high-risk infants in the Early Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (Baby FACES) that are socially competent at age one is 90 percent. 12 Using the same measure, in Shelby County, more than three-quarters (78 percent) of children age 12 months participating in the CANDLE study are considered socially competent by a parent.

Source: CANDLE Study (2009–2012) Parent report of social competence measured by the Brief Infant Toddler Social Emotional Assessment (BITSEA)

Did you know? Play gives children a chance to practice different social skills. They learn to acknowledge others" feelings, play "nicely," share, and resolve conflict. As children get older, play becomes more interactive, further improving their social skills and preparing them for more active social interactions inside and outside the home.

What is emotion regulation?

Emotion regulation is the ability of a child to control his or her emotions and reactions to his or her environment. This does not mean that a child should be happy, brave, and calm all of the time. It is normal, for example, for babies to cry to communicate needs or for toddlers to throw temper tantrums and push boundaries. But some children have a harder time calming down.

Data fact: Nationally, approximately 26 percent of children 12 months of age exhibited problem behaviors related to a lack of emotion regulation. 12 Using the same measure, approximately 25 percent of one-year-olds in Shelby County exhibited problem behaviors related to a lack of emotion regulation.

Source: CANDLE Study (2009–2012) Parent report of social competence measured by BITSEA

Question: Doesn"t Shelby County already support social and emotional development?

Answer: Yes and no. Today, Shelby County spends more time talking about child social and emotional development and its importance than in the past. But, schools, community organizations, and other local child service organizations have traditionally paid less attention to social and emotional development than cognitive outcomes and academic success.

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Why is it important to invest in social and emotional development?

One theory suggests that intervening with very young children at higher risk of social and emotional difficulties produces the largest gains in terms of skill development over time (Figure 1.4). 13 Additionally, this theory suggests that this approach ends up costing communities or the larger society less money in the long run. In essence, pay now or pay more later. Unfortunately, a number of children struggle with at least one area of social and emotional development. These children and society may benefit from investments to set them on the best path forward. But we need to know what works, for whom, and under what circumstances, as well as where and how much to invest.

The Impact of Investing in Early Childhood Figure 1.4

How can this book help?

In the next chapters, Off to a Good Start explores the issue of social and emotional development in more detail and provides insights for how each of us can help.

There is no "one size fits all" approach. Off to a Good Start offers some quick tips to support child social and emotional development, but it is important to review the evidence when selecting a more comprehensive program or policy.

This book is designed to help improve understanding of the social and emotional development of children in Shelby County and help community members think about how they can make a difference.

See more: Is No One One Or Two Words, No One, Nobody, Nothing, Nowhere

To do this, the report pulls together data from both local sources of information and national sources. A list of these resources is available in Appendix A. The use of both local and national data highlights the knowledge available in Shelby County about social and emotional development, identifies differences and similarities between our local community and the overall United States, and emphasizes areas where additional information is needed to understand the local issues.

What is next in the book?
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