Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Vicious childhood

The Globe and Mail continues its series on early childhood development. Though I feel compelled to acknowledge that I read the articles and record my impressions here, I found the articles themselves to be not particularly compelling.

"Canada's dads are the best." Yay. Go, Canadian dads.

A study has found that preschoolers in Canada can count on an extra hour of undivided attention from their parents each day, compared with what their moms and dads received from their own parents 30 years ago.

To squeeze in the extra hour with their children, Canadian parents are giving up on sleep, TV viewing and tidy homes. The study found, for instance, that for mothers, the extra time with children was financed almost entirely by a decline in housework. Fathers partly compensated by doing 36 more minutes of household chores a day than they did in the past.

Maybe I'll start timing J-F. Oh, to sleep an extra half hour. . . I still watch a lot of TV. I'd have to say that parenthood primarily cuts into my drinking.

Another article explores the benefits of play-fighting.

Almost every social animal play-fights, from the puppy to the baby monkey, and young children do it spontaneously. From a purely evolutionary point of view, wrestling for fun builds physical strength and gives practice in protecting yourself should danger arise.

But it also fine-tunes social behaviour, teaching the participants how hard they can push and introducing them to compromise, . . . and reconciliation.

It comes as no surprise that "fathers are believed to be a key component; in home studies, they were found to engage more often in wrestling and tackling games than mothers."

I do play-fight with Helena. I see it as a last resort — when I'm at a loss for things to say and do, when no other activity engages her, when my mental energies are depleted. It usually evolves out of a harmless game of peek-a-boo.

"The most violent people on Earth" is rather unsettling, looking at an old philosophical question: Are we born evil? Human viciousness is at its peak in toddlers. So we don't learn aggression; we unlearn it.

Passive children don't grow up to be aggressive adults; "the raging adults were the raging children who never leashed their anger."

Complicated stuff, the brain. I'll let you read the article for yourself. So many factors play into the development of aggression and into the ability to control it.

I can appreciate that girls learn to be savvy and subversive with their aggression early on, the little bitches.

I'm a little weirded out by the thought of anger management classes in kindergarten. Not sure that's the answer.

But I'm also not sure how big a problem aggression is. It's natural. Play-fighting is good, but I guess that's channeled and controlled aggression. So how much aggression can safely go unchecked? Did it go unchecked in previous generations, or did it naturally resolve itself?

I'm astounded to read that science on some fronts is so slow to figure out the obvious:

In the past two decades, science has begun to unravel both the origins and social cost of shyness, and build a case for why parents and schools need to give the quiet kid in the corner the same attention they give the rabble-rouser in the sandbox.

And being extroverted is something that the individualistic North American society places a high value upon, especially for boys, who usually have the hardest time when they are shy. Cultural studies have revealed a striking difference, for instance, in the outcomes for shy children in China, where conformity is celebrated — they end up as leaders among their peers, and academic stars.

Maybe if somebody just asked the shy kid what was going on, science could pick up the pace. Or if the shy guy at the lab spoke up. . .

Then there's the old nature–nurture debate. No question that it's some complex combination that governs how we turns out. Now, "the question is how the environment physically alters genes to produce individual differences."

"They want to know how parental care affects genes in human babies" and if negative effects can be reversed.

Does any of this help me to be a better mother? Remember, Isabella: it's important to hold your baby. A little affection goes a long way.

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