It is no secret that the first few years of life are especially crucial for human development. The brain is particularly plastic and wired for connection in the first years of life. This makes this time an especially important window for setting the tracks of human thought and development. These are easy to maintain and hard to change later in life, when the brain loses some (but not all) of its plasticity. Early childhood education has become a global focus, as a way to set the foundations for lifelong learning and habits of mind.
What is less widely recognized is that the early years of life are an even more critical period for the development of emotional habits. The first years of life are the moment that essential relational patterns are being set within the human psyche. The modes of relation established during this time set the tone, direction, and qualities of relation that endure throughout life. It is extremely difficult to change them later because they form part of the unexamined background of life as lived by each individual. Many psychotheraphy techniques have been developed to help people try to reprogram their inner emotional orientations, but these requires a conscious and sustained effort to cognitively rewire patterns that were formed before the self was conscious of their formation. Even when an individual is aware that their emotional patterns are unhelpful or unhealthy and are willing to seek help or work to change them, it is often a long and uphill battle.
Social ills (racism in its myriad forms, workaholism, abuse, depression, substance abuse and addiction, bullying, exploitation, oppression, etc.) consist almost entirely in problematic – neglectful or violent – modes of relating to self and other. Thus the establishment of healthy emotional and affective patterns during early life is a matter of interest not only for the optimum development of each individual human being but also the most important task for the creation and maintenance of strong, healthy, and sustainable societies. Every other task should be subordinate to this one in priority and investment of time and energy.
What would it look like to create a society in which the proper nurture of early childhood is promoted and supported on every level? This is a dream that we must all dream together. In order to build a healthy and sustainable society, every single child born into it needs to receive full and sufficient nurture, to meet not simply physical needs, but also to meet their emotional and affective needs and set them up in habits and patterns of satisfaction, trust, joy, love, peace, and respect. When this is our goal, it is quickly apparent that we must all go back to the beginnings of life, and find a way for every child to have significant and nurturing attachment relationships with adults who know them personally AND are able to offer the nurture and supportive modeling that enable children to develop healthy affective and emotional patterns.