Leaders of the early education programs at Sunflower Diversified Services have a track record of seeking advanced training about perhaps the most important part of children’s lives – social/emotional development.
And once again, they have taken it to the next level.
Five Sunflower representatives recently attended the Kansas Association for Infant Mental Health (KAIMH) conference and have shared the new information with their colleagues.
“While the phrase ‘infant mental health” is used in our field, the public doesn’t hear it too often,” said Cathy Estes, Sunflower children’s services coordinator. “It refers to how a child develops socially and emotionally. For example, there could be a problem if a 4-month-old child isn’t making eye contact, and is not cooing and smiling back at you.
“We cannot emphasize enough how important this is,” Estes continued. “Infants and toddlers must be able to form secure and safe relationships. This comes before everything else. If children develop social/emotional skills, all other developmental issues will improve.”
Sunflower owns and operates its Early Education Center (EEC) for children birth to 3 with developmental delays. Its incredible Years Preschool serves children age 2-and-a-half to 5; the preschool is open to all children, with or without delays. Both non-profit entities are located at 1312 Patton in Great Bend.
The five professionals who attended the KAIMH conference are Incredible Years Director Shari Schneider; and Mayra Reyes, Chelsea Alexander, Blythe Zimmerman and McKinley Phillips, all EEC teachers.
“Each of these professionals reported that while the entire conference was beneficial, the segment on the ‘whole brain’ approach was especially enlightening,” Estes said. “Research proves over and over again that the brain develops rapidly from birth to 3; these are the most crucial developmental years for everyone.
“KAIMH gives us one more tool for becoming more experienced and knowledgeable about social/emotional skills,” she added. “A lot of this is learning how to better educate parents.”
For instance, Estes said, maybe a situation calls for parents to back up and take a deep breath instead of overreacting to a crying or misbehaving child.
“A youngster has to be at a certain emotional state before you are able to get through,” she noted. “If a child is screaming, it is not the time to tell them to do something. We have to wait until the child has calmed down and becomes more receptive.
“Children are born with different dispositions, and all mothers and fathers have varying parenting styles,” Estes commented. “Sometimes there is a mismatch.”
All these factors are taken into account because an EEC youngster has a developmental need, which can also cause behavioral issues and added stress at home.
“Our task, with the parents’ help, is to determine how we respond to unacceptable behavior or withdrawing from others,” Estes said. “And if children are abused, they can become aggressive or shut down. We have to consider all the relationship dynamics here at the early ed center, and between parent and child at home.”
If a child entering Incredible Years seems insecure, one teacher will provide more individual attention, Estes said, noting, “Then the child starts to accept other teachers and peers too. With social/emotional skills, stress is reduced and they can cope. It is easier to redirect behavior when they feel safe.”
Dr. Tina Payne Bryson was the keynoter throughout the KAIMH conference in Kansas City. She is co-author of the recently published “No-Drama Discipline” that has been a New York Times bestseller. She also wrote “The Whole-Brain Child.”
Sunflower’s EEC is part of the tiny-k infant/toddler program in Kansas; its services are free. Incredible Years tuition is based on income.