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November 15, 2013 / BTM

Are Early Learning and Socialization Critical for Children’s Long-term Success?

Father and Son Playing Together at HomeThere is a lot of pressure in society to ensure that our children start learning early and have a lot of opportunities to socialize with their peers.  This is one of several reasons that parents place their children in pre-school or daycare.  It is used as an argument against having one parent stay at home to look after their children.  If their children are happy in care outside of the home, and are being socially and academically stimulated there, many parents feel that they are providing what is best for their children.  Are they right?  Quite possibly not.

According to this article by Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a Canadian developmental psychologist:

Children should start attending school later, not earlier […]. “Early learning” programs for young children have no benefits for kids, he adds.

How is that possible?  It sounds pretty counterintuitive, doesn’t it?  When it comes to the socialization that daycare provides, Dr. Neufeld says:

“Probably the greatest myth that has evolved is this idea that socializing with one’s equals leads to socialization.”  (emphasis is original author’s)

[…]  Socialization in childrearing means rendering children fit for society so that children can grow and mature into becoming contributing adults, who can respectfully interact with others in community, be it at work or home, with colleagues, family and friends.

[…]  For Dr. Neufeld and his colleagues at The Neufeld Institute, socialization is more complex than simply being able to get along well with peers. […]  Socialization involves being able to get along with others while at the same time being true to oneself.

[…]  One of the issues with large numbers of little people in group care settings is the issue of peer orientation.  This means having small children attach to their peers, rather than to adults.

The concept of attachment, developed primarily by psychologist John Bowlby, denotes the instinct that causes adults to care for children and children to receive that care.  Successful early attachment is necessary for adult emotional development.  In Bowlby’s words, attachment is the tendency “of human beings to make strong affectional bonds to particular others.”

As humans, we are highly sociable creatures.  But we identify some relationships as being higher priority, and are very particular about who takes that position.  It is through these connections that we develop a sense of self.

And importantly, our high priority attachment figures (aka the people we see the most of and really love) are intended to be enduring.  These are not people who should disappear from our lives, neither are strong attachments something small children should “grow out of.”

This is one reason why daycare employees can never imitate the potent power of the parent: A job is a job, and employees change cities or jobs with some regularity.

[…]  If parents aren’t aware of this, they may interpret negative developments as positive.  The three-year-old who can’t wait to be with his friends in daycare may in fact be on his way to becoming peer rather than parent attached, because being attached makes us want to be with those we are attached to.

The problem is that the more children are peer attached, the less attached they are to adults—and this can result in children becoming very hostile to being parented or taught.

How can a parent train her child and pass on her faith if that child doesn’t ascribe authority or attachment to his parents?  I urge parents to think about the time their children will spend in daycare, and the time that will be available to them as parents to purposefully prepare and train their children for life.  If you are considering daycare, I urge you to think about how you will ensure your children are primarily attached to you so that you can do your job as a parent to raise them.

If you must choose daycare, Dr. Neufeld says:

This research is not intended to panic parents whose young children are in all-day care.  However, it is wise to understand why your children are there.  Some parents put their children in care for the express purpose of socializing them; this is not a researched reason to do so.

For parents whose children must be in care, it would be wise to confirm that the “early learning” is limited exclusively to playing in an environment of adult attachment. (emphasis is original author’s)

But he cautions:

[…] the capacity for healthy relationships is meant to unfold in the first six years of life.  “It’s a very basic agenda,” he says.  “By the fifth year of life if everything is continuous and safe then emotional intimacy begins.  A child gives his heart to whomever he is attached to and that is an incredibly important part….The first issue is always to establish strong, deep emotional connections with those who are raising you.  And that should be our emphasis in society.  If we did this, we would send our children to school late, not early.” (emphasis is original author’s).

The concept of creating an environment for strong attachment to us as parents has been very instructive for us as we go forward raising our two boys.  I hope it will be for you as well.  For more on this topic, check out: Hold On To Your Kids.


Leave a Comment
  1. Becky / Nov 19 2013 2:36 pm

    Great perspective. I have related to the insights of Dr. Neufeld in the past. It is great to see his name come up again as a reputable psychologist who offers a different perspective than our current accepted norm.
    Thanks for the read.

    • BTM / Nov 19 2013 2:51 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to visit and comment Becky!

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