Early childhood stimulation can help reduce violent behaviour - expert
Dr Susan Chang-Lopez of The Child Development Research Group at the University of the West Indies (UWI) is convinced that early childhood stimulation can contribute to reducing the number of violent incidents in Jamaica.
This view is informed by research done by the UWI Child Development Research Group which evaluated adult benefits from early childhood stimulation and/or nutritional supplementation in growth-retarded children.
The study involved 129 growth-retarded children aged nine to 24 months, living in inner-city communities in Kingston, in a two-year trial of nutritional supplementation (1kg milk-based formula per week) and/or psychosocial stimulation (weekly play sessions to improve mother-child interaction).
When the intelligence quotient (IQ), educational attainment, and behaviour of the children were assessed at 22 years old, the research group found that participants who received stimulation reported less involvement in fights and in serious violent behaviour than did participants who received no stimulation during childhood.
The stimulation children also had higher adult IQ, higher educational attainment, better general knowledge, and fewer symptoms of depression and social inhibition.
"I was surprised by the finding relating to violence which shows that those children that receive stimulation in their early years are less likely to exhibit violent behaviour as adults," Chang-Lopez said in an interview with The Gleaner.
According to Chang-Lopez, the early interaction between mother and child builds self-esteem and confidence which allows them to make better choices.
In supporting Chang-Lopez, Dr Christine Powell, another member of the Child Development Research Group, contended that the stimulation received during childhood prepares adults to handle conflicts and as such reduces violent behaviour.
For Chang-Lopez, the findings of the research provide important lessons for crime-prevention strategies in Jamaica.
An article published in the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, co-authored by Chang-Lopez, called for aggressive behaviour to be addressed from the early stages of life.
"Participants who received stimulation were less likely to have been expelled from school. They reported less involvement in physical fights and were less likely to be involved in serious violent behaviour such as gun use, fights with weapons, and gang membership. These findings reinforce the importance of beginning strategies to prevent aggressive behaviour in early childhood," the article said.