“The roots of a child’s ability to cope and thrive, regardless of circumstance, lie in that child’s having had a small, safe place (an apartment, a room, a lap) in which, in the companionship of a loving person, that child could discover that he or she was loveable and capable of loving in return. If a child finds this during the first years of life, he or she can grow up to be a competent, healthy person.”
Fred Rogers, MANY WAYS TO SAY I LOVE YOU: WISDOM FOR PARENTS AND CHILDREN FROM MISTER ROGERS (page 5)
Wow! What powerful words from such a kind-spirited person. Always a champion of all children, Mr. Rogers was able to plainly state what makes perfect sense. And they are not just the musings of a true gentleman.
We now know from early brain and children development science that safe, stable nurturing relationships (SSNRs) are crucial to early childhood development and later adult health. SSNRs are so important for multiple reasons –
1) SSNRs are the key to a healthy childhood. They help with the development of healthy brain growth, healthy brain wiring, and healthy gene expression. All of these components are so crucial to early successful development;
2) SSNRs are the key to lifelong health. The evidence is clear that healthier childhoods with fewer adverse exposures lead to healthier adults with less heart disease, obesity, hypertension and other common adult ailments. Typically called adult-onset diseases, these diseases are more precisely referred to as adult-manifest diseases. A healthier childhood with strong SSNRs can lead to a healthier adulthood;
3) SSNRs allow us to view the events of childhood in a healthy, not punitive, way. Instead of asking “what is wrong with you” when we see children with various issues, we can now ask “what has happened to you” being non-judgmental so we can seek ways to build trust and seek a positive path forward; and
4) SSNRs are the antidote for “toxic” situations and relationships that children are exposed to. As a pediatrician for over 40 years, I know that it is so important for me to establish trust with a family and see which SSNRs can be nurtured and which relationships can be developed into SSNRs.
So Mr. Rogers, that champion of early childhood development and always spreading his message of nurture and love, knew what he was talking about. For a child to grow up and be a competent, healthy person, the following should be happening—
- “The roots of a child’s ability to cope and thrive…lie…in a safe place”
- The child needs a SAFE place
- “The companionship of a loving person”
- The child needs a STABLE place and STABLE people
- “That child could discover that he or she was loveable and capable of loving in return”
- The child needs constant NURTURING
- “During the first years of life”
- All of these activities need to occur early in life for effective SAFE, STABLE NURTURING RELATIONSHIPS to occur
Parenting is sometimes considered an innate process to raise one’s children to be capable adults—that everything is straightforward and will easily fall into place over the years from birth to adulthood. Conceiving children does not properly prepare us for the nurturing, physical and emotional, needed to raise healthy children.
Working toward developing SSNRs with our children is mandatory. Fred Rogers knew this, and SSNRs are at the root of his lifelong work and powerful messages. And it is so exciting to see that the science backs him up.