While watching the KET documentary Safe and Sound: Raising Emotionally Healthy Children in a Stressful World, I couldn't help but wonder what harm I may have unknowingly caused my children.
It was mother's guilt, experienced by human mothers who are subject to imperfection. My children love to highlight those shortcomings at family gatherings.
But the goal of the KET Health Special Report was not to make mothers feel inadequate, but to encourage parents, relatives, neighbors, teachers and all adults within reach of very young children to be more mindful of their development, especially in the first three years of life.
That's when, according to research, the brain development needs positive experiences to form social and emotional well-being. In the first years, a child learns decision-making, trust, and how to treat others. Those lessons can last a lifetime.
Never miss a local story.
But those early years may also be the time of the most stress for parents, when the adults may be too distracted by working two jobs or financial shortfalls to give children the attention needed. Without that nurturing there could be serious repercussions for the child.
"We wanted to show that parenting is difficult and that we all need support," said Laura Krueger, the film's producer. "We haven't acknowledged that. We need to change the culture to it is OK to ask for help."
A child's development can be hindered by a parent's addiction, incarceration, divorce, lack of knowledge or bad parenting advice. How those obstacles are dealt with can determine the level of toxic stress experienced by the child.
None of the experts in the film, which premieres at 9 p.m. Monday on KET, were blaming parents. They want to educate parents to diminish potential damage. In that regard, several Kentucky programs throughout the state were highlighted as avenues of support.
When parents know better, they do better, according to the film.
The Center for Women & Infants at the University of Louisville advocates immediate bonding after birth. Parents are encouraged to hold their baby skin-to-skin, through kangaroo care, to start the bonding process for both infant and parent.
At home, Health Access Nurturing Development Services (HANDS) provides home visits in all Kentucky counties to teach parents the value of playtime with their children.
"I think HANDS is a jewel in the state of Kentucky for helping parents," Krueger said. "As soon as a baby is born, we should say, 'When is HANDS going to come?'"
Not all families want home visits, Krueger said, so an outreach program like Metro United Way in Louisville offers a peer-to-peer model in which mothers can share concerns and learn techniques to get their children ready for kindergarten.
For those children exhibiting behavioral problems, the film showcased Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) which centers on more one-on-one playtime with the child by both parents and by daycare providers. In the example shown, the child's behavior changed in a short period of time.
In cases such as that, Krueger said, "the first thing we think of is more discipline and more medicine. But time-out only works when you have had time-in."
But despite research indicating the benefits of better parenting techniques, some of us still rely on what we learned from our own parents, which, in some cases, leaves a lot of room for improvement. Inmates at Mason County Detention Center are shown exploring their upbringing and learning how to counteract that for their own children through a Nurturing Fathers class conducted by the University of Kentucky County Extension program.
Sometimes, though, no matter how willing a parent may be to nurture children, substance abuse may trump their good intentions. In many of those instances, the children may be removed from the home. Regaining sobriety, and the children, can be difficult.
One program, Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams (START) uses mentors who have been through the process and who can support families as they travel that road.
"It is all about supporting parents and strengthening that bond," Krueger said.
When parents are given the support they need, all of Kentucky benefits.
"When you talk about early childhood, one of the challenges is it is very easy to get lost in how cute those little kids look," said Terry Brooks, executive director and CEO of Kentucky Youth Advocates, in the film. "Everybody wants to help them. But we don't get serious about what investments are going to cost. And the flip side is that, if we don't invest, we are going to be paying now and, guess what, we're going to be paying forever."
We all need to watch this documentary.