All pediatricians know that when a child is deprived of emotional support in daily life, he or she may be delayed in growth and development physically and mentally. This usually happens in child abuse and other distress, when the parents or the family have problems. This is called "Emotional (or Maternal) Deprivation Syndrome." It is important to know that the deprived child may be able to catch up in growth and development if he or she is provided with emotionally supportive care.
We know that the growth and development of orphans can be influenced by the personality and the character of the people who take care of them. We also know that growth and development of children recovering from severe malnutrition is also determined by emotional factors in addition to nutrition.
These phenomena indicate that the biological program of growth and development present in a child's body is influenced by emotion. Further indications are that programs of growth and development are interacting with programs of both the body and the mind. The situations stated above are considered to be results of dysfunction of the program of the mind, resulting in delay of growth and development.
This is a rather mechanistic and overly rough approach to human development. However, we can say that the body is composed of various "biological systems," and the system is made up of combinations and connections of cells, tissues and organs. These body systems are operated by biological programs, which are composed of sets of genetically determined biological codes. Each program makes its body system function by biological factors, mainly through the nervous system.
As stated above, the biological programs can be divided into two categories, those of body functions, or body programs such as circulation, respiration, and walking, and those of brain function, or mental programs, such as learning, imitation, thinking, believing, or experiencing pleasure, or sadness. Programs of growth and development fine-tune the programs of body and mind so that growth and development of the child are maintained.
Presence of the biological programs can be well demonstrated by studies in fetal and neonatal medicine made possible by recent developments of new technology. Heartbeat can be demonstrated at five or ten weeks after conception by ultrasonic monitoring. This provides evidence that the body system of heart and circulation is already organized and operated by a circulation program at this early stage. The biological program of respiration is well developed at the end of pregnancy, as shown by the respiration-like movements of the thorax of the fetus, but it actually starts to operate with initial respiration just after birth.
The stepping reflex (automatic walk) of the neonate shows that the neonate is able to perform ambulatory-like movement of the lower extremities if the body is well supported. This reflex disappears soon after delivery, however, during the first month or so. The child is born with the program for walking; however, after weightless life in the uterus during the pregnancy the infant's cognitive power of three-dimensional space is limited at birth, and the muscle power of the infant legs is not enough to support the body weight outside the uterus. Thus, the program of walking is switched off by fear of the environment, and then the stepping reflex disappears. The time comes at approximately twelve months, however, when the child develops the cognitive capacity to assess the space and muscle power of the legs to support the body weight, and then the program for walking will be switched on again. This may be the reason why infants can start spontaneously to walk without being taught how to, when they reach the right age.
It may be demonstrated by ultrasonic monitor that the fetus is sucking his/her finger, especially when stimulated by sudden noise. Smiling, crying, and other emotional expressions are developed without instruction or education when the infant reaches a certain age after birth. This indicates programs of the mind are present already at the early stage of life, some even at the fetal stage.
When human beings are talking with each other, of course, they use not only spoken language, but also facial expression and hand and body movements that may be called "behavior language." Verbal and behavior language interact with each other. It can be observed that body movements, facial expression, and movement of the other parts of body such as the hand are synchronized with spoken language in the speaker himself, and even between the speaker and listener. This phenomenon is called "entrainment" in communication. We have made the following experiment with babies:
Hand movements of the neonate were videotaped when a mother was freely saying affectionately to her neonate, "This is mommy, dear," or something like that. The videotaped picture was subjected for quantitative analysis by computer, and the results showed clearly that there was synchronization of the mother's voice and the neonate's movement. This suggests that every neonate has a program for communication.
Of course, we are not robots. The child is born with programs for imitation, learning, thinking, memorizing, and other higher mental functions that take in information from the environment and add it to other programs. These programs can be categorized as programs of education. It is demonstrated that even a neonate can imitate protrusion of the tongue and the facial expression of the mother.
No one teaches a baby how to learn, think, and memorize, so that he or she can develop language and other intellectual activities. The infant begins to do it on his own. It is important to realize, however, that the child can improve various functions through education. This is why children can skip and dance when they enter nursery school. They really improve on the program of walking by information obtained through imitation and learning.
On the basis of these studies, it can be said that the human being is born with various body systems and biological programs, and that these programs are switched on not only by some inner mechanism but also by interaction with the environment, particularly emotionally rich and tender stimuli from daily life. We must provide this warm, loving quality at home and school, so that we can make the most of the innate programs of the child. A child can learn better with the "joie de vivre" that is an essential part of the best kind of education. A positive and emotionally rich environment is not a luxury but actually a necessity for better education in the coming 21st century.
About: Noboru Kobayashi
Dr. Noboru Kobayashi recently retired as President of the National Children's Hospital in Tokyo, made a memorable presentation at New Horizons for Learning's Creating Our Future in Education Conference in 1987. As a member of the Japanese National Council on Educational Reform, he described his concerns about the current state of education.
Established in 1984, the Council was charged with considering educational reform from a long-term perspective. In 1985, the Council identified eight basic principles for educational reform: greater respect for individuality; emphasis on fundamentals; cultivation of creativity; thinking ability and power of expression; expansion of opportunities for choices; humanization of the educational environment; transition to a lifelong learning system; coping with internationalization; and coping with the information age.
In their 1987 report, the Council identified three goals for education, which Dr. Kobayashi quoted: "(1) the nurture of open and generous hearts and minds, strong bodies and richly creative spirits; (2) the development of free and self-determining spirits and public-minded character; (3) the cultivation of Japanese competent to live as members of the world community."
As Dr. Kobayashi has described the concerns of the Japanese about their educational "state of desolation," it becomes quite clear that educational reform must be a world enterprise.
He has devoted his life to the research and practice of pediatric medicine, with special focus on infant behavior, child ecology, maternal/child health, and school health. He was Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Pediatric Department at the University of Tokyo in 1970, and in 1984 he established the National Children's Medical Research Center and was the first general director. For twelve years he was president of the International Pediatric Association.
He is currently involved in Child Research Net, CRN, an institute organized to study issues surrounding childcare, child health, and education. Child Research Net's website, http://www.childresearch.net/ is designed to encourage an international exchange of ideas and information.