Renowned pediatrician, T.Berry Brazelton, and America’s most influential child psychiatrist, Stanley I. Greenspan, have written a new book, The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have to Grow, Learn, and Flourish. Their thesis challenges our essential ideas about daycare. The argument they present is compelling: When both parents work full-time (30 hours or more a week), their infants and toddlers are at risk. The solutions they discuss involve a total reassessment of the notion that both parents can work full-time and sustain a healthy environment for their children.
The basic question addressed is whether we as a nation are failing our children. Will future generations have the intelligence, emotional health, and moral compass to lead the world in the 21st century and beyond? According to Brazelton and Greenspan, this question will be answered by how we nurture our infants and children now.
In their book they define a set of seven irreducible needs of children as follows:
• The Need for Ongoing Nurturing Relationships
Every baby needs a warm, intimate relationship with a primary caregiver, over years, not months or weeks. Both emotional and intellectual development depend on such relationships, not early cognitive training or educational games. If this relationship is absent, or interrupted, disorders of reasoning, motivation, and attachment are likely. Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers need these nurturing interactions most of their waking hours. The best setting for such interactions is at home with parents. If they are to be provided by daycare, daycare must change significantly.
• The Need for Physical Protection, Safety, and Regulation
Both in the womb and in infancy, children need an environment that provides these assurances. This includes protection from physical and psychological harm, from chemical toxins, and from exposure to violence.
• The Need for Experiences Tailored to Individual Differences
Every child has a unique biological make-up and temperament. If early experience is tailored to nurture this individual child’s nature, learning and behavioral problems can be prevented and the child can develop to his or her full potential.
• The Need for Developmentally Appropriate Experiences
Children of different ages need care tailored to their stage of development. Unrealistic expectations, too much stimulation or too little can thwart or hinder a child’s development.
• The Need for Limit-Setting, Structure, and Expectations
Children need structure and discipline. They need discipline that leads to internal limit setting, channeling of aggression, and an ability to solve problems peacefully. To reach this goal, they need adults who empathize as well as set limits. They need expectations rather than labels, and adults who believe in their potential but understand their weaknesses. They need incentive systems, not failure models.
• The Need for Stable, Supportive Communities and Cultural Continuity
To feel whole and integrated, children need to grow up in a stable community. This means a continuity of values in family, peer groups, religion, and culture as well as exposure to diversity.
• The Need to Protect the Future
Unless the previous six needs are met for our children, and society makes these needs the highest priority, we will be jeopardizing our children’s future.