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Bruce D. Perry: Social & Emotional Development in Early Childhood

Bruce D. Perry: Social & Emotional Development in Early Childhood


Thank you very much, I am very honored to be here, I love Chicago. And I’m very very grateful to Deloris, for this wonderful honor, and really for her ongoing work, and her lifelong work, in trying to help all of us understand the importance of early childhood, and the role that safety, predictability, nurturing, play, in shaping who we become as individuals, and in turn what that means for the health and welfare of a culture. I know there’s a lot of things that I could talk about, and I have a limited amount of time, I’m actually a very shy person, and so, when I prepare for things like this, I always struggle with what I should say, and what is worth talking about, and I almost always end up settling on things that are probably bigger than my capability to teach, I think one of the biggest challenges that we have in the modern era, and really in any era, is figuring out how to make the world better, for our children and our grandchildren. How do we take the things that we have learned from our parents and our ancestors, and our neighbors, and our educational systems, and whatever means we have used to become who we are, how do we take that information, and sort through it and decide what parts of that are worth passing on, and what parts of that should not be passed on? And the interesting thing about our species, is that we are really more capable of this process of trans-generational change than any other species on the planet. Other species learn, and pass their learnings on to the next generation, but no species can do it with the same efficiency and effectiveness that human beings can, and the reason we’re able to do that is, we have a brain that is unique in its ability to absorb and store information at rates faster than any other species. So, because we can do that, we’re able to take accumulated experiences of thousands of previous generations, dilute it, distill it, and pass it on. And your brain allows you to do that, particularly the top parts of your brain, the neo cortex, which is, most uniquely human genetically, and it’s most uniquely human in the functions it mediates, so you’ve got lots of different parts of your brain, parts of your brain that mediate moving your fingers, and parts of the brain that mediate forming relationships, and parts of the brain that mediate learning mathematics, and all of these capabilities are part of who you are, yet the most creative, the most complex, the most malleable part of your brain, is this top part of our brain, that we use to store and to create values, moral beliefs, it’s the part of the brain that makes us most human. And it’s a part of the brain that really is involved in this process of social- cultural evolution. You know, it’s an interesting thing that generation after generation after generation we change, so if you think about this now, there are people in this room, who were young children when there wasn’t routinely a television in your home. You know, my grandmother was born before there were routinely cars in the street, before there were planes in the air, and the rate of change in the last several generations, has been faster problem solving to deal with that level of change, it’s an interesting thing, think about it, right here in this
room, we’re looking at a screen, that’s an invention, I’m speaking English, that’s an invention, I’m wearing a jacket, which is an invention, and a tie, you know I’m not sure where this came from, but this is an invention. I always wonder, who came up with the idea of wrapping some stuff around your neck in a special way, and that is somehow a signification of respect. It’s kind of a weird thing, but… But we’ve invented lots of other things, right? We’ve invented child rearing practices, we’ve invent the concept of a nuclear family, is an invention. We’ve invented good things and bad things, and the good things that we’ve invented, I think, like reading, is an invention. This is a really fascinating thing, right? I mean the human brain, has really genetically had the potential to learn how to read ten thousand years ago, twenty thousand years ago, but there wasn’t a single human being on the planet who read ten thousand years ago, not a single human being. Yet right now, in our current United States, we spend a finite amount of the energy, and resources that we have, that we dedicate to childhood, to teaching them how to read. It’s an interesting shift, it reflects a set of deliberate, intentional choices about what we are providing for our children. We intentionally teach them Math, we intentionally teach them Geography, we intentionally teach them a lot of things. And some families, right, there’s some intentions that are culture-wide, there’s some intentions that are family based, right? My family says, “Okay, let’s teach children how to play the piano.” Other families say, “Let’s value sports.” And so, depending upon what your family’s values are, what your community’s values, what your culture’s values are, you provide patterned, repetitive experiences that motor, social, emotional, cognitive, and you literally, by virtue of that, you are expressing different parts of that individual’s potential, and creating the present. And some of the things we’ve invented are good, and some of the things we’ve invented are not so good. We pass on lots of things, both in intentional ways, and in inertial ways that are not so good. And when I say inertial, what I mean by that is, that there are a lot of things that go from generation to generation to generation, that if you ask people in that generation, “Did you really want to pass this on to the next generation?” They’d say, “No!” We don’t want to pass on racism, I don’t think anybody in this room says, “Hey, let’s pass on racism to the next generation!” Or, “Let’s pass on misogyny!” But we do, we pass it on, do we want to pass on solving problems using power dominance and violence? No, we don’t, in fact, we explicitly write that we shouldn’t do that, in fact we spend billions of dollars developing anti-bullying programs and all kinds of other things, to say, “Don’t solve problems using violence,” but, at the same time, we have this inertial exposure that our children have, through the media, of solving problems with violence. We have these subtle ways, and not so subtle ways of solving problems in foreign policy, using violence. We have these models for solving problems, even in child rearing, we use violence. I shouldn’t laugh about this, but I have seen many times, young parents, and older parents, at the playground with their children. Their little child will push another child, and they’ll go over, intending to teach them, don’t hit, and they’ll swat the kid on the butt. And say don’t hit. Right? I mean we do things like that all the time, so what I’m telling you right now, is that we have the potential to be more intentional about what we pass on to the next generation, and if we aren’t more intentional about this, we are losing a tremendous oportunity, and, we’re actually on quite a dangerous trajectory, and I’ll talk about that in a second, because this interesting thing about social-cultural evolution, is that if you do not explicitly pass on something to the next generation, it goes away. You know, I remember my grandmother, and she used to make cookies that were incredibly good, and we tried to replicate that recipe a million times, and it’s because she had some secret, I don’t know whether it was the oven, or whether she’d put MSG in those cookies, or what, but she had some secret, that she didn’t pass on to us, and we’ve lost forever, those miracle magical cookies. You know, we get close approximations, but it’s not the same thing. And everybody in this room has seen, in their own lives, in their own family, the loss of trans-generational things. It might be something as simple as a ritual around Thanksgiving, or you know, a way, a practice you used to do around some holiday, that is going away. Part of what’s happened in this remarkable process, is that there are limits to what social-cultural evolution can do. So, we can invent all kinds of stuff, and one of the things that’s happened really, that’s very challenging for the present, is that, over the last several decades, and maybe even longer, we have slowly been neglecting two of our most powerful biological gifts. Human beings have certain genetic gifts, Bears have certain genetic gifts, Eagles have certain genetic gifts, and whenever you create policy, practice, or law, that is in synchrony with your biology, you see remarkable things happen, but you can’t fight biology very much. And part of what’s happened is, in our inventing process, we have lost our way. We have invented ourselves into environments that are relationally disrespectful, that are relationally impoverished, let me just talk about this for a second. I’ll come to early childhood in a minute. These are obviously inter-related, but one of the most powerful things that we have going for us as a species, is our capacity to form and maintain relationships. Human beings, in the natural world, are slow, we don’t have any natural body armor, we have no poisons that we can use, you know, we’re not that fast, we are known to the other predators in the natural world as “Meat on feet,” a little prehistoric joke there, alright so, but the only way we’ve survived on the planet was by forming working groups, by literally creating a larger functional whole, in fact, the lowest divisible unit of evolution for our species, isn’t the person, it’s the clan, it’s the group. We are neurobiologically designed to live, work, play, die in groups. And in the natural condition in which human beings lived, for 99.9% of the time we’ve been on this planet, we’ve lived in multifamily, multi-generational groups. And in those groups, we live together, the concept of private space was very odd, it didn’t exist. There was more touch, more conversation, more eye contact, there was more relational interactions. In fact, if you were a child under the age of 6, and living in a typical hunter-gatherer clan, or later on, a typical multifamily group, the number of developmentally more mature individuals, who would be present in your life, to help you grow up, to nurture, to model, to educate, to discipline, was four to one. We now think it’s an incredibly enriched early childhood environment to have one teacher and eight kids. And it’s not unusual to have one teacher and twenty kids. And as kids get a little older, one teacher and thirty kids. So we have an incredibly relationally diluted model for parenting, for childcare, for education. And I’ll talk about the consequences of that in a minute, but let’s keep exploring this. So we’ve got fewer people in our lives, right? The average size of a household has been shrinking, in the last U.S. census, 1/3 of the households in the U.S. had one person. But if this is where we started, by 1500 in the West, we were down to about twenty, 1850: ten, and by the 2000 census we had fewer than three people in the typical American household, and the irony is, this is sort of coupled with this American Dream of get your own home, get your own room in your own home. And then, get your own screen in your own room in your own home. And so, part of what’s been happening is that there’s been this fragmentation of experience, that we spend less time with each other in human ways, and we spend a tremendous amount of time in front of a screen. The consequences of this are not fully understood, but one of the things that we know for sure, is this: That the relational landscape is changing. Now, why does this matter? This matters for a number of reasons, and this poverty of relationships is extremely important because the normal neurobiological networks that you have in your brain and your body, that help you regulate your physiology, your stress response networks, that control how well your pancreas works, and how vulnerable you may or may not be to diabetes, how your heart works, how your lungs work, how your skin works, how your neuro-immune system works, and then, how every part of your brain works, the part of the brain involved in moving, the part of the brain involved in forming relationships, the part of the brain involved in empathy, in compassion, in creativity, in productivity, every single part of the brain, and all the rest of your body, are influenced by relational interactions. Your stress response systems and the neuro-biological networks that you have that are involved in reward, and the systems that give you pleasure, are co-organized with the neuro-biological networks that are involved in forming and maintaining relationships, and the mechanism by which this takes place is the early developmental experience you have with your primary caregiver, typically your mother. So human beings have wonderful sensory apparatus, we have eyes, we have ears, we have the sensation of touch, and one of the things that happens is, these external sensory apparatus that you’re using right now to hear me, and to see these images, these sensory apparatus connect you one to another. And your senses turn these experiences, visual input, auditory input, tactile input into patterned neuronal activity, that goes up into your brain, and sends a variety of signals, a cascade of neural activity that influences how you develop. And so, this is important, because in the little alien baby here, they have an undeveloped brain, their capacity for language is yet to develop, their capacity for forming relationships has yet to develop, their capacity to use their fingers to play a piano, or manipulate a joystick, is yet to develop, and it is waiting for experience. Your brain, and the neural networks you have in your brain, develop in a use-dependent way, your brain has, literally, 84 billion neurons, and neuron has, probably, 200 to 2000 synaptic connections, and each one of those synapse is firing at a rate of about 80 times per minute, and that incredible complexity creates networks of activity, neural networks of activity, that somehow, make us who we are. But one thing that we know, is that these neural networks develop as a function of repetition, and what you’ll see here, is the creation of a synaptic connection, this is a plate of neurons, and this, oh by the way, this is me when I had brown hair. I’m just saying, you know, I used to really look young. So this is a plate of neurons, and… that’s not a plate of neurons… This is a plate of neurons, and what I’m gonna show you is the creation of a synaptic connection, and so, when you were an infant, in the first year of life, you create billions and billions and billions of these synaptic connections as a function of your experiences and…. Pretty cool, right? Now think about this, this is a very powerful thing. Who is that, is that me? I don’t know why that’s happening. Anyway, let’s ignore that man behind the curtain. So, let me talk about this for a second, let me stop this, right…here. Now, let’s pretend, now you all know, you all learned this in elementary school, you learn that, your eyeball turns photons into patterned neural activity, goes up into your brain, and you learned that your eardrum, and those three little bones, turn sound waves into neural activity that goes up into your brain, and right now, you’re hearing this, and you’re thinking about this, and you’re realizing, I know, Oh, sensory information comes in separate, and in order to make a connection between an image and a sound, in other words, in order to create language, I have to connect sound and image. And what you’re doing is, making, literally, making the physical concrete connections that you saw created here. So let’s pretend, that this is the patterned neural activity that occurs when you see a dog, and this is the patterned neural activity that occurs when you hear the sound, ‘dog.’ And up until this point you’re about to see, the sound, ‘dog,’ was just a sound, and it becomes, actually, a word, once this connection is created. And your brain is doing this currently, right now, you’re making synaptic connections, but the rate at which you’re making synaptic connections now, is nothing compared to the rate at which you were making them in the first few years of life. In fact, over 90% of the existing synaptic connections in your brain right now, were created as a function of your experiences in the first three or four years of life. They create your internal architecture, your view of the world. And this happens in a use-dependent way, so if you’re a little child in and you’re in a highly verbal environment, and you hear lots of words and conversation, you are going to, by age 2, develop a vocabulary… Did I say a highly verbal? That would be this one. If you have a highly verbal early environment, by the time you’re two years old, you’ve got a vocabulary of 600 words. If you’ve got a low verbal environment you’re vocabulary is only 150 to 200 words. The nature of your cognitive experiences with language influence how you develop. Now, there are differences in the way we’re exposed to words, there’s differences in the way we’re exposed to language, there’s differences in the way we’re exposed to motor exploration, there’s differences in the way we’re exposed to relationships. And so the speech and language parts of your brain develop as a function of the words you hear. And the parts of your brain involved in forming and maintaining healthy relationships also develop as a function of the relational interactions you have, so if you’re a child who grows up in an environment where there’s a lot of people in your life, who are attentive and attuned to you, you get lots of social repetitions, and, this is a single contact, a single day, in the life of a typical child, this is from a real child, this is six in the morning, this is noon, this is six at night, and this is midnight. The inner circle is positive relational interactions with somebody in the family, these are positive interactions with peers, with friends, this is with peers, like classmates, and this is with strangers. And this child, all day long, has repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition with relational interactions, and that has multiple effects. One is, that it is rewarding, and as most of you know, when you have a positive interaction with somebody, who you admire, trust, respect, like, it’s rewarding, it’s pleasurable. The second effect is that it also is regulating, so, in the presence of safe and familiar individuals, your stress response systems are quieter, you have a lower resting heart rate, if somebody smiles at you, literally there’s parts of your brain that release hormones that keep you young, if somebody touches you, in the right way, you know, it’s not poking your chest, but if somebody touches you, in an embracing, affectionate way, it is a neuro-physiological event. It’s physiologically regulating, it’s good for your heart, good for your skin, good for your gut, it makes you healthy. Many, many, many of you have been reading the studies, or reading in the papers about the fact that if you are in a socially isolated situation, you’ll die earlier, if you’re in a socially isolated situation, higher rates of heart disease, social isolation, all kinds of physical health problems, and mental health problems. So, this is a healthy child, with a relationally enriched environment, and this is a child in foster care. This is the best day that he had, and so, this child has significant poverty of relationship and poverty of reward. If you have poverty of reward, you’re much more likely to use other ways to get your rewards met, other ways to regulate, and some of the ways these kids use to regulate, is,”Wow, I’m disregulated, lemme smoke a joint,” “I’m disregulated, lemme drink a little bit,” “I’m not getting any reward? Lemme take some cocaine.” “I’m not getting my reward? Lemme eat sweet, salty, and fatty foods.” So there are… You increase the probabilities that someone will utilize maladaptive, or unhealthy forms of regulation and reward, by having poverty of relationships. In turn, if you have a healthy relational environment, your ability to resist unhealthy forms of regulation and reward is so much better. So, the relational significance, relational neuro-biology and it’s interconnection between the stress response system and the reward system is absolutely essential to understanding public health issues like obesity. Absolutely essential to understanding and interpreting the adverse childhood experience work, where we know that the more adversity you have when you’re young, the more likely you are to have mental health problems, physical health problems, substance abuse, and in turn, even if you have adversity, if you have relational health, those effects can be buffered. They’re protective, because adversity is all around us, everybody is going to have adversity. If you have adversity in the presence of safe and stable relationships, you end up with having fewer long term health, mental health, social consequences. If you have minimal adversity, and relational poverty, you end up being very, very, very at risk. This is something that makes me say, that it is as important for us to think intentionally and deliberately about creating social-emotional, relationally enriched curriculum, as it is to develop curriculum around science, math, engineering, in fact, I would argue that it’s more essential that we develop intentional opportunities for relational enrichment in the lives of our children, in order to express this potential, because of what’s been happening in the last several decades. The last several decades, as we have invented the present, with the onset of screen time, with the onset of mobility in communities, with the onset of acquisition of private living spaces. You know, it’s an interesting thing, I like my house, but it is isolating, and it is apart, I live away from my family, my extended family, I live away from my neighbors. There’s a cost to the choices we’ve made about the way we have created our lives, and one of the costs is, all parts of the brain develop in a use-dependent way, and if you raise a child, and I’m not talking about in an abusive environment, but you raise a child in a typical American environment, and they watch television, the typical number of hours American kids watch, and they have a cell phone, and screen time, the way a typical American kid has, they will end up, at age 15, having had the same number of social- emotional learning opportunities, that three decades before, would have been typical for a child who is 6. In other words, we’ve got 18 year old kids, who have the cognitive skills of 18 year olds, but they have the social-emotional skills of 6 year olds. They’re more self centered, they’re more self-absorbed, why do you think these kids are taking photo after photo, after photo, after photo of themselves and posting it online? I mean, seriously, they are so self-absorbed that they think I give two shits about what they had for lunch. Excuse my language, but they photograph, “Oh, I had this for lunch!” Tweet it, okay, awesome. I don’t care… Now, there are many, many, many, many manifestations of this problem, one of them is a study that was looking at the MMPI, now many of you don’t know what that is, but the MMPI is a test you can take, that sort of looks at various aspects of personality. And in the last birth-cohorts, in 2007, there were 5 times as many individuals who scored above the cutoff for psychopathy. Now this is a normal population, so in comparison to 1938, in 2007, in the general population, there were 5 times as many individuals who met criteria, for what used to be considered: Psychopath. And the interpretation of these authors are that, the culture has shifted away from intrinsic goals, such as community, meaning in life, and affiliation, and more towards extrinsic goals, such as materialism, status, etc. Another study, there’s again, there’s a standard test that people have been administering for many many years, and it measures empathy, and different aspects of empathy, and they noted: Significantly, empathic subscales dropping significantly, particularly around perspective taking, which is a more developmentally mature capability, in other words, basically what they’re saying is, that we’ve got a bunch of 18 year old, 19 year old, 20 year old college students who have the empathic capabilities of children who are much younger. It’s like language, right? If you hear half as many words, you’re gonna have a vocabulary that’s half as developed. We are raising children who are literally, coming of age with good cognitive skills, but very very poor social-emotional skills, and this is really important for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is, the fact that we live in a representative democracy. What is one of the most powerful indicators of investment in community and being other-oriented than voting? Look at this, this is in the election when you would have thought the youth would have been energized, this is when Obama was first elected, and the lowest percentage of voters were the young people. This is in the last election, how can you have a representative democracy, when people are disengaging from the electoral process? Again, this is a reflection, I believe, of this undeveloped social-emotional potential, and it’s why we need to start thinking more deliberately about creating environments that can help express that potential in individuals. Again, if you go and you look at, and do surveys of people in the corporate world, and you look at what they’re seeking in new employees, new hires, and this is from a survey in St. Louis in 2013, and they went to all these people that are hiring, and they said, “What are the major deficits you’re finding in the people that are in the job market, and the young people coming out of school?” None of these, and I know you can’t read this very well, because it’s sort of, sort of a bad slide, but basically, down here is all the hard skills, you know, the stem things that we’re all concerned about in education that we have to teach towards, well, they don’t care about that as much, all of this stuff is just soft skills. These are things like, they’re not effective in groups, they don’t know how to communicate, they don’t have fundamental interpersonal skills, and I have heard story after story about, from people in the corporate sector, about the challenge they’re having in getting relationally appropriate young individuals. Now, they’re bright, and they have some skills, but they do things like pull out their cellphone in the middle of a job interview, seriously, and tell the head of a fortune 500 company, to, “Excuse me a moment,” in a job interview, “I’ve got to respond to this Tweet.” That’s…I’m not kidding, that’s real story. The parts of our brain that are involved in becoming humane develop just like every other part of our brain, as a function our raw potential, and I can guarantee you almost everybody is born with the raw potential to have fundamental relational skills, because it is at the core of being a successful human being. And there would be the very, very, very, very, very, very rare genetic abnormality that would be such that you would not be able to have fundamental relational skills, now it does exist, but it’s very rare. So the vast majority of us are born with the capacity to be humane, and empathic, and compassionate, but that capability will only be expressed if we have experiences with other human beings. (child in audience,” Uh oh!”) Uh oh? Awesome! That was awesome! Give that little child a cigar! A play cigar, mind you. That is exactly what I wanted to say, “Uh
oh!” Now, and again, I don’t want people to think that I’m saying that all screen time, or, all that stuff is bad, in fact I think that once we learn how to master these tools, they will be the mechanisms by which we will most quickly transform these problems. However, we are not yet masters of these tools, they are our masters. Everybody in this room has been pulled away from a positive human interaction by being distracted by a television in the background, or a buzz when their phone rang, or, “Excuse me,” and I have been out to eat, as have all of you, and looked over and seen people having a ‘family meal,’ when everybody, mom is on her phone, dad is on his phone, and the kids are on their iPads. We’ve all seen this, and maybe all of us have done this a little bit, and part of what we have to do, and this is why I talk about this, we have to intentionally model a different way of being, we have to intentionally create, in our classrooms, curriculum about regulating the use of these tools. I mean, we’ve learned how to regulate the use of a car, right? We teach kids how to use certain things. You know, when you’re a little boy scout, and you’re learning how to carve and whittle, there are certain things, you learn how to actually do things with that tool. We have not developed adequate structure, and, if you will, screen time hygiene, for ourselves, for the workplace, or for our children. And that’s something that we have to do. Now, how much, I forget, where am I? 15 minutes, alright, so, I talked for a minute, actually quite a few minutes, about the one area where we’ve been developmentally respec- disrespectful, we’ve really, we’ve created and invented, not intentionally, but we’ve invented ourselves away from our relational needs, and it’s playing a role in many, many, many of our problems. The other area where we’ve been broadly disrespectful, is underestimating the power of early childhood, and the reason I think it’s important for us to be aware of this, is that the set of problems I just described, will be most easily remedied by addressing early childhood relational environments. And the reason I say that, is that, so much of the fundamental biological capability, and neuro-biological growth, of the individual takes place early in life. So if you look at physical growth of the brain, it plateaus when you’re four and five. Now that doesn’t mean you stop developing, many, many, many important developmental things happen, but the fundamental architectural growth of your brain slows down tremendously. There’s periods in the third trimester when you’re making 20 thousand brand new neurons per second. Now you’re making new neurons today, but you’ll be lucky if you make three or four hundred. No, seriously, that’s a good day. For me, you know, I’m happy to get 50. But so the rate slows down, and again, we’re malleable, human beings continue to be malleable, changeable, but the fact is, we have this incredible gift early in life when we are most responsive to experiences, both good and bad. Let me start with the bad. This is, some of you may have heard about this, but if you look at a bunch of adults, and you line them up, and you say, “Alright, I want to know about your physical health, about your mental health, about your academic productivity, I want to look at all these different aspects of your life. Did you go to jail? Do you take drugs? Do you have good relationships? Are you suicidal?” Literally, list all kinds of stuff. An then, “I want to look at your history, your developmental history. Did you have adverse experiences? Did you have developmental trauma? Child abuse? Neglect? Exposure to, you know, combat? You know, did you have things as you were growing up, that were overwhelming, that were stress activating, in an unpredictable and prolonged way? In other words, did you have developmental trauma?” And if you did, here’s what happens: The more adversity you have when you’re young, the more of these adverse childhood experiences you have, the more at risk you are for expressing problems in physical health domains and mental health domains, and social domains. So over here, when this morbidity, basically what they’re talking about is, do you have heart disease, do you have mental illness, do you have substance abuse problems, have you had a suicide attempt, did you drop out of school? And so the more adversity you have, in this linear way, the more bad things happen, the more comprise there is in your development, then the more vulnerable you are. Now, these early… It’s interesting that, many of you know about, we’ve had big public health campaigns about the fact that if you smoke, it’s bad for your lungs, and if you smoke, you’re gonna be at risk for heart disease, and if you smoke, all these bad things will happen. Drink alcohol, you can get cirrhosis. If you drink alcohol when you’re pregnant, that can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, and all kinds of stuff. But did you know that your risk for having a heart attack is greater, if you have three adverse childhood experiences than if you smoked two packs of cigarettes a day? So, developmental adversity is a power- ful determinate of health in multiple domains. Health, and global wellness. Now, so this is an important thing, turns out, that this curve actually needs to be modified a little bit. If you think, if you remember what I said about how important relationships are, and how they have the potential to regulate you, if you have an adverse experience, and you are in a relationally healthy environment, rather than having the curve look like this, the curve actually looks like this. In other words, you can no compromise, and have significant adversity, if you have relational health. And if you have relational poverty, it actually looks like this. You actually, relational poverty, in and of itself, even without overt adversity, leads to increased risk for heart disease, mental health problems, and so forth. And this is a different way of saying this. This right here, is, and again, I don’t want to use too much data, but, get the Gestalt feeling that, the more this goes up here, the more this goes down. In other words, these are bad things here, this is how healthy the brain is, and the more bad things, the less healthy your brain is. But, if you look at the very same children, and then plot the same data, what you find is, but relational health can protect you. The more relational health you have, the more you are basically develop normal brain functional capability. And you can see this with, all, we’ve seen this with all different age groups, adversity makes you vulnerable, relationships protect you. And this, of course, if you then think about the fact that it’s almost impossible to avoid adversity in your life, it makes it all the more important to start thinking about deliberate creation of relational health. How do we think about how our neighborhoods are constructed? How do we think about the way we build even our own homes? How do we think about the fact that, oh gee, even though I’ve got a lot of money, and I could have a separate room for both of my kids, I want them to share a room. Or, how about I take a TV out of their room? And if we’re gonna watch TV, we’re at least going to be in the same space. How about if we actually have more family meals? How about if we do all kinds of little structural things to increase the number and quality of relational interactions, you are literally buffering your children from the inevitable adversity that they will be experiencing. They will be better regulated, they’ll be better capable of learning, they’ll be better capable of sharing, and they’ll be better capable of creating. One of the things that we know, is this, again, the early developmental experiences are disproportionately powerful, early developmental bad, and early developmental good. So this, again, I don’t want you to read all this, unless you’re really bored. But you might want to look at this at some point if you’re sort of academically inclined, bottom line is this: this is from a study where, a bunch of children were given very high quality early childhood programming, and it lasted for about two years. And so, when they were really little, and these were kids that came from pretty high risk environments, they gave them really high quality early childhood programming, and it cost money, you know, it costs a little bit of money, not a ton of money, but it cost some money. And then, they went off into the world, and they grew up, now people tracked their emotional and cognitive outcomes, and they were better, as they got into childhood and… But this study actually went back to these kids now that they’re adults, and looked at physical health factors, and they found that, that brief social-emotional early childhood focused environment, that was relationally enriched, literally had enduring physical health consequences, that were powerful and positive. And again, this speaks to the power of early childhood. And yet, both in the way we value, the way we invest in early childhood, and the way we create relational environments, we are being disrespectful to our own biology. This is the number of relational opportunities in a hunter-gatherer clan for a child in that world, a primitive world, right? Oh, we call that primitive, and here is a modern kid, who’s got a single caregiver and goes to a childcare environment where the ratio is 1:4, which is almost unrealistic. And even under those circumstances, this child has 1/20th the social-emotional learning opportunities that this child has. The question is, are you going to help change that? Because if you don’t, if you, the people who literally got up, on a Saturday morning, one of the most beautiful days of the year, and came to listen to me talk about this, if you’re not gonna do it, who in the Hell is gonna do this? Seriously. We have to do this, we have to be intentional about this, we have to recognize that we have the power to make changes, small and big, both in policy and our own lives, that will ultimately help us depart from this trajectory, because this is a trans- generational deterioration. Think about it, we’ve got, you know, the statistics about the number of isolated, overwhelmed families now, compared to two decades ago, is stunning. It’s hard to raise kids, let alone raising them on your own, let alone raising them away from your parents and your aunties and your cousins. So because we are a mobile culture, it’s not unusual to have a single isolated caregiver have responsibility for multiple children at once, and have nobody who knows her in the neighborhood, nobody who, she’s not connected to a community of faith, she’s not connected to her extended family, and that is a disaster. This mother may be well-intended, she may be hard working, she may be the…you know, Mother Teresa, could not do the right thing by those children, honestly. We have to change this. This is the return on investment curve that James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate from Chicago, developed a number of years ago, and it basically shows you, again, that if you invest in these early programs, if you do something that’s resonant with our biology, we’re most malleable early in life, let’s invest in that time in life, you get a huge bang for your buck, but this is a curve I made in 1996, that basically shows the malleability of the brain, here’s the malleability of the brain, it changes, but it’s easiest to change here, and this shows you how we spend money to change the brain in our culture. This mismatch between potential and opportunity is, really, a disaster, and if we can act on this mismatch, we can change the world, we literally can see a quantum leap in the productivity, the creativity, and the humanity of our species, and I can tell you right now, when you start to look at things like, the number of people on this planet, we’re gonna have to learn how to live together, right? Think about it, how many people are on this planet? A lot. I don’t have it in here, I can’t find the slide quickly, but here’s the bottom line: Our children are going to be living in an increasingly diverse world, with increasingly limited resources, and it is not going to help our species, if the people who are in that circumstance don’t know how to share and communicate, and respect others. But if we do, we can survive as a species, if we don’t, it doesn’t matter how much Math we know, really, we need people who can do both. And there’s no reason why we can’t invent a future that helps fully express the potential of children to do both. So, I will stop with that, maybe, I have no idea if I left time enough for questions, 5 minutes for questions? That’s better than usual, so, thank you for your attention. Thank you! Questions? Questions, comments, hopes, dreams, dirty limericks, I’m open for anything. Yes, there’s a question over there. I was in a household, about, a couple days ago, for dinner, and they an 18 month old child, and he was using one of these digital devices that read to him, and he knew how to push the buttons to change the programs, but all that he’s experiencing is what the digital device shows him, I kinda threw it out, I took a book, and started reading to him. I’d say touch this, and looking at the words, pointing out words. And do you have any idea how that will be transformative because, this is happening everywhere. You go to a restaurant, and you can see little children all on their devices while the parents are talking, either talking or on their devices. Well, you know, your observation is something that all of us have seen. I have three grandchildren, two of them are two year olds, and every once in awhile, there’ll be this developmental TV programming that their parents will put on, and so there literally are, on television, programs that a little dancing, sort of looks like an iPhone thing that dances around, and he calls himself, your first friend. I will be your first friend. And literally, it’s nauseating, but it permeates that kind of thinking. I remember when I was asked to give the presentation about early childhood, about brain development to the, all of the PBS affiliates, and it was a National PBS convention, and I got up, and you know, it was sort of a bait and switch, I actually gave a talk about why television is bad for children. They didn’t ask me back, I don’t know why. So, one of the people afterwards, came up and said, “Well I just want you to understand, that we’re developing programming so that the mother and the child will sit down, and sit together, they’ll be together, and they’ll watch the show together, and like a really colorful A that comes, and an apple, and so,” and all this stuff. And I said, “Well okay, well the intention is you’re expecting the parent to be there with the child, right? Well then, why don’t you just tell them to turn off the TV, and have mom turn and face the child, and go ‘A, B…'” Okay, and they didn’t like that very much, but that’s happening. Now, with that said, let me also say, I don’t want to vilify all of this, because you can, if you can, I’m a big fan of moderation, and I’m a big fan of technology. If you learn how to use these things with discipline, then rather than having your brain shaped by them, you can use them in ways that are appropriate and enriching. So, I think part of what we’re gonna have to do, is sort of, as a broader culture, figure this stuff out, but it’s going to take awhile, because the rate of change is so much faster than our rate of problem solving, and we’re always behind the curve, by the time we think we’ve figured out, it literally took the American Academy of Pediatrics up until about 3 or 4 years ago, to finally make a statement, that children under the age of 3, shouldn’t watch television all the time. And so, if it took that long, television was introduced in the 50’s, so it’s gonna take a long time for them to develop a consensus statement about, you know, the use of texting as a form of dating. Have you ever seen, do you guys know who Mike Leach is? Any football fans in the crowd? Mike Leach is a football coach, notorious for being sort of, a little bizarre. Those of you who use the web, go online, and type in; Mike Leach- end of the world. And he’s doing this post-game interview about something, and he starts talking about dating, and soon it’s gonna be two people on a thing, “Hi, what’s your name?” It’s one of the funniest parodies of what could happen, based upon this electronic stuff. We are in a rapidly changing world, and I’m very very very concerned about the inertial progress of what we’re doing, and the way it’s getting passed to the next generations. And that’s why I think we need to be more deliberate about it, we need to think more about it, but I don’t think we need to destroy all these things and then move back to caves. Some people, after they hear me talk, they’re like,”Well he just thinks the modern world sucks.” And I’m like, “No, I don’t.” I just think we need to learn how to capture, or recapture, the parts of our past, that were healthy, and incorporate these new technologies, but I don’t know exactly how to do that. (inaudible) Yeah, I.. There’s a couple of things, The question is: How can you learn maybe a little bit more about these things? There’s a couple of things, I’ve listed a couple of websites here, I actually wrote a book that’s kind of about this, it’s called “Born for Love” and the truth is, I don’t recommend that book, I mean it’s… how do I say this? I mean I like, I think the content is good, I don’t think it’s as well-written as other things I’ve written. It’s too…I had a big fight with the co-author. My first book, it was all about stories, and I thought, and it was interesting, the second book, she wanted it to more like a regular book, so it’s like regular book, but it’s got some of this stuff in there. Yes? Recently, I saw on Facebook that you said that ADHD is not a real disease, can you comment on that? Well, yeah, I can. That was so interesting, first of all, that is a complete distortion of what I said, and it happened after an interview with a reporter in England, and the British Press are notorious for, I don’t know if you know this, but they’re notorious for basically wanting to cause sensation whenever they can, so I had this hour long interview with this guy, and then at the end, he’s like,”Well what’s going on, what’s interesting in the field, and what about all this ADHD?” And I said, “Well, you know, what you need to understand is that ADHD is essentially a description of symptoms, and in the conventional sense of a patho-physiology that we know leads to a certain set of symptoms, that’s not the way the DSM-5 works. The DSM-5 is about descriptions, but it’s not connected to physiology, so in that sense, it’s not like a real disease. And so, all of the sudden, people are saying, “He doesn’t believe that ADHD exists, and you know,” I even got hate-mail from parents, “My kid has ADHD!” And I’m like, I didn’t say there aren’t inattentive children. But ADHD, as a distinct disease, is not a disease. It’s a description, and that’s the way the DSM-5 is constructed. So, if you are inattentive, you are a little impulsive, and you have a few other things, you meet criterian for that label. But in terms of, it’s different from diseases, in other areas of medicine. So let me give you an example: If you walk into the doctor’s office and you have chest pain, you don’t have “Chest Pain Disease.” Right? You have, maybe, heartburn, that’s caused by your GI system. You might have Pleurisy, caused by something in your lungs, you might have a Pancreatitis, caused by your panreas. You might be having a heart attack. So there’s four different diseases, or disease processes, that could be causing that symptom. And so, that’s the dilemma we have in mental health right now. And in fact, the NIMH is moving away from using the DSM-5, and moving to a much more descriptive set of, if you will, diagnostic labeling, in order to actually start to connect real, physiological processes to disease clusters. That’s kinda what I was trying to talk to him about, and he took that one thing and distorted it, and went to the races and.. I got all kinds of hate mail.

25 comments on “Bruce D. Perry: Social & Emotional Development in Early Childhood

  1. I am primary caregiver for a critical care 11 year old boy, and we are using the Bruce Perry model of caring for him. We being the Ministry for Children and Families and his care team of myself, the contractor, his teachers and his youth care workers. When he was younger he was not nurtured by his parents and he was abused. He was bounced around from the age of 1 and a half between care homes other than 3 years he spent living with his Aunt and her family from when he was 6 till he was 9. His aunt did the best she could however was given little help financial or respite from the ministry as they don't do that for family members. His aunt had to work full time on top of trying to raise him. He did learn manners from her but he has no empathy at all. When he came to me he had very good manners and tried at least to pick up after himself at home. Since he has been allowed to do, eat, say, etc. exactly as he pleases, following the Bruce Perry model he has gotten progressively worse. The manners he had when he arrived are now nowhere to be seen. He realizes no one will challenge him and he takes full advantage of that. Is this really helping him in the long run? You already have a child with a huge sense of entitlement, who is manipulative and feels his workers are there only for him to use as slaves. He says this. He is brilliant intellectually but not so much socially. He does not have to endure any consequences for his actions so therefore feels he should have what he wants when he wants and becomes extremely violent when he doesn't get his way. He is 5 feet tall and 150 lbs so when he punches and kicks us, we hurt. There is nothing done for us when this happens. What are we to do? He only goes to school a half hour a day because he was violent at school and they have for good reason a zero violence policy. He runs everyone around him ragged. What is the answer for a child like this?

  2. Very engaging speech with some astounding figures that we simply are unaware of.  I am constantly in awe of how bright and inquisitive children are, yet many of them decline when not engaged in the right manner.  Great video!

  3. Thanks for this video. I didn't know Dr.Bruce, and I know him now thanks to a book of Alice Miller about the childhood trauma (Project nonspank). It recalls very well the importance of the childhood mistreatments in character and in destiny. Maybe today there are an inversion of values with technology where people confuse the means with ends and lose the sense of life. We should recover the values that make possible progress.In USA are life and liberty. Thanks too to Dr.Bruce.

  4. "The Hate U Give Little Infants Fvvks Everyone". ~Tupac on T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E.

  5. While I have the utmost respect for Bruce, the work he has done and continues to do is vital for the human species, however, what he does not appear to recognize is the fact that the vast majority of us come from moderate to extreme abusive early childhood backgrounds and, therefore the fatalism not intended but nevertheless resoundingly conveyed, early death heart disease and so forth depresses and dampens and leaves (or can leave) one without much hope for the possibility of a healthy life, physically, emotionally-mentally. His "empathy" is that department as he is on the "right side" of the camp of those who come from more "salubrious backgrounds" is severely or at a minimum greatly lacking. That is why i and many others turn with great hope in the brilliant and courageous work of those in midst of early deprivation, abuse and hell, such as the troubled but brilliant empathic psychoanalyst, such as Alice Miller (her brilliant works) have brought to bear, with the not only possibility but probability of gaining access to early childhood injuries, overcoming and "re-wiring" if you will, towards greater integration. In fact, I would argue, in an upcoming book that it is precisely those who have suffered amidst the most unspeakable hells that have in a very real sense (artists, poets, psychologists et al) to tyhe awareness, consciousness and empatthic growth of the species. Paradoxically it may seem, although not really, It is those who have been there and have overcome and have created from their layers of unbearable and unspeakable pain combined with their soul of genius that know and contribute the most to the collective consciousness of the species!

  6. Typos corrected from previous post.
    While I have the utmost respect for Bruce, the work he has done and
    continues to do is vital for the human species, however, what he does
    not appear to recognize is the fact that the vast majority of us come
    from moderate to extreme abusive early childhood backgrounds and,
    therefore the fatalism not intended but nevertheless resoundingly
    conveyed, early death heart disease and so forth depresses and dampens
    and leaves (or can leave) one without much hope for the possibility of a
    healthy life, physically, emotionally-mentally. His "empathy" as he perhaps
    himself stems from the "right side" of the camp of those who come
    from early more "salubrious backgrounds" is severely or at a minimum greatly
    lacking. That is why I and many others turn with great hope to the
    brilliant and courageous work of those who come from early deprivation,
    abuse and hell, such as the troubled but brilliant empathic
    psychoanalyst, Alice Miller. Her brilliant works have brought
    to bear, with the not only possibility but probability of gaining access
    to early childhood injuries, overcoming and "re-wiring" if you will,
    towards greater integration. In fact, I would argue, in an upcoming book
    that it is precisely those who have suffered amidst the most
    unspeakable hell that have in a very real sense (artists, poets,
    psychologists et al) contributed to the greatest depth of awareness,
    consciousness and empatthic growth of the species. Paradoxically
     it may seem, although not really, It is those who have been there and
    have overcome and have created from their layers of unbearable and
     unspeakable pain combined with their soul of genius that know and contribute
     the most to the collective consciousness of the species!

  7. Great segment , True focus towards Children growth , and the future of our World.Thank You for the Teachings.Bless

  8. team playing where trust should and can be a mainstream thing in life but I dont think people are able to grasp this because for some reason many brains are programmed to manipulate and to always try to be one up on another. do you think this can change
    we are in a world and their are generations coming up and they need to learn that if one falls we all fall and because people are different in interpreting words the fight and flee gland gets enlarged and when that happens it causes an uncomfortable environment. Bullying will b a thing of the eradicated but because peoples brains havent exercised more of their brain this just might be only in theory or a dream state type of thought procedure.

  9. Now I know why the second book is not as immersive as the first one. Thanks for that info, too 🙂 And thank you for your work and effort. I cannot say how much I appreaciate it, because it would break the internet 😀 Thank you Dr. Perry!!

  10. The quotation at 34:55 ("I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.") was never expressed by Albert Einstein. See Snopes.

  11. I've been fortunate to have seen Dr. Perry several times at conferences. His work is so critical for the field of early childhood; it seems we've been talking about these issues for so very long. Yet, mental health services are virtually non existent for young children in low income communities. What really resonated with me listening to Dr. Perry was when he talked about the Poverty of Relationships….and adversity. I had a very chaotic childhood with multiple moms, dads and step parents and we moved from not only town to town but to different sets of parents on a regular basis. But the one thing we always always had was the consistency of our grandmother. She was the one solid, always there, always with unconditional love stable person in our young lives. And I really think that the quality and depth of that relationship saved all of us. No matter what went wrong, where we were sent to stay, we always knew she was somewhere and we would eventually end up back with her. I think of her often when I see children who have that lost look….not always the ones with issues that stand out. Oftentimes they are the quiet ones and get missed. And I don't think as a community we can point fingers at anyone, certainly not the parents. Where are their supports? Who is helping the single mom or dad who is struggling just to stay afloat. I remember when I did live with my grandmother that I knew everyone for blocks and blocks around our house. And I was as likely to get scolded for bad behavior from a neighbor as I was from my grandmother. It was just that kind of place, everyone cared about us, looked out for us. I don't see those kind of neighborhoods much anymore, think they went away with the front porches of our youth. So I use my experiences in trying to have opportunities for the families in our center to get together, to get to know each other and establish relationships. So even if a child is faced with multiple repeated adversities …if they have at least one strong relationship with someone who thinks they hung the moon,, then that child will be able to better handle anything thrown at them.

  12. 50 United States 4 Shared Parenting
    Mission
    USA 4 Shared Parenting advocates the rebuttable presumption in favor of equal shared parenting and residence. That shared, frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parents after s…

  13. I disagree with one of the points he made: A human being is not only what his or her parents passed on or did not pass on. We are not copies of our parents with something added or taken away. The biggest influence on people apart from parents and upbringing is actually peer influence (other kids and people), especially later in adolesence and in life. So we are at least as much influenced by our environment and interactions as by our parents. So bad characteristics as "racism" or" misogyni"or "violence" can be aquired on your own during life just as much as it could be "passed on" by parents.

  14. I'm a retired multi skilled engineer, I can't get my son to take any interest in my projects, he spends his life in his room on his computer, after 5 years a collage still he has no idea of what to do about a job, he is now 24 with no direction or interests.

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