Amslee Institute planned on chatting with Dr. Alaina Desjardin, Adjunct Faculty member and course author of Theories of Child Development, Advanced Children, and Children at Risk. Unfortunately, due to traffic delays, the Facebook live was not possible at the planned time. Instead, we are sharing the interview as completed over the phone.

As a new training organization licensed by the Florida Commission of Education, No. 5951, Amslee Institute is introducing our faculty and strategic partners to the childcare community. Our Facebook live guest is Dr. Alaina Desjardin. Dr. Alaina Desjardin earned a Doctorate of Business Administration from Northcentral University, Masters of Public Administration from Ashford University, Masters of Arts in Teaching in Special Education from New Jersey City University, and a Masters of Urban Education with specialization in Leadership from New Jersey City University. Dr. Desjardin is licensed in New Jersey as a Certified Educational Principal, Certified Educational Supervisor, Certified Teacher of Students with Disabilities, and K-6 Generalist Teacher.

You’ve taught 3 courses for Amslee and let’s begin by sharing some insights from the Theories of Child Development. The course dives deep into Attachment Theory, the Eight Psychosocial Crisis, and Cognitive Development Theory but can you share how Nannies benefit from knowing about these different theories?

Dr. Desjardin: The child development theories are a set of ideas to describe, explain, and predict behavior. They help us understand the meaning of what we observe and create a basis for understand what and why children are behaving the way they are. This helps us understand how to best to interpret the child’s actions and respond.

What are the stages of child development?

Dr. Desjardin: The standard periods of development are usually broken into prenatal from conception to birth, newborn and infancy up to one year, toddlers, early childhood which goes to 6 years, middle childhood through 12 years, and adolescence is between 12-19 years old. Child development can also be described in three domains and growth in one domain influences the other domains. The domains include the following: physical domain which focuses on body size, appearance, brain development which includes cognitive development of intellectual and decision-making abilities, and the social and emotional domain which includes self-knowledge and moral reasoning, interpersonal skills, and friendships.

Why is child development important?

Dr. Desjardin: Early years of infancy to childhood are important time for child development. Nannies can help promote activities that create the basis of intelligence, personality, social behavior, and create a capacity to learn and nurture oneself as an adult. There is significant evidence that links the circumstances of habits formed in early years to behaviors in adulthood.

There is consistent evidence that demonstrates brain development is most rapid in the early years of life. If the quality of stimulation for the child, support and nurturing is deficient, child development can seriously be impacted. However, early interventions for children have the potential to lead to improvements in the youth’s survival, health, growth, and cognitive and social development. If the early years are healthy with lots of support physically, cognitively, and emotionally, children gain a foundation that can help them thrive.

Children who receive good care or interventional services in their early years achieve more success at school and as a result become adults that have higher employment and earnings, better health, and lower levels of dependence than those who don’t have these early opportunities.

What are the benefits from early childhood education?

Dr. Desjardin: The benefits from a scientific view focuses on the notion that brain development is on overdrive during the childhood years before typical schooling takes place. In addition, the socioeconomic impacts of early childhood education find that the benefits of quality-based programs are far more beneficial – to the economy, workforce, and beyond.

Children with access to early childhood education and interventional services typically gain an advantage. Specifically, early childhood education helps children do better in elementary school, have higher test scores, go on to college or another avenue of education or training, have higher incomes by the time they are in their middle ages, and have a lower likelihood of being incarcerated for crimes.

From a parent or caregiver perspective, early childhood education helps children develop. Specifically, children gain good nutrition and physical exercise for physical development as well as hands-on experiences for fine motor skills. Children are often in groups and learn social skills such as sharing, managing their emotions, and responding to other children’s emotions.

How can Nannies use child development stages to help care for children?

Dr. Desjardin: Let’s use an example to help clarify the connections. Imagine that you observed the following scene: Stacy is sitting at the art table using markers. Jenny joins her at the table and begins to cut with scissors. Jenny picks up a paper that Stacy has discarded into the center of the table and begins to cut it into 2 equal pieces. Stacy looks over at Jenny working, jumps up so quickly that she knocks her chair over and cries out, “No! That is mine!” while ripping the paper from her hands. Before the teacher can reach the area, Stacy and Jenny are hitting each other.

There are multiple perspectives that can be used to interpret the behaviors of Stacy and Jenny. Each theory used to interpret the behavior will lead us to a different way to address or begin to resolve this situation.

For example:

1. A teacher/caregiver informed by psychosocial theory might conclude that Jenny and Stacy are struggling with the conflict of guilt. Here they are demonstrating independence in planning and undertaking activities but is experiencing conflict about how to communicate these plans to others. This teacher/caregiver might decide to help the students learn strategies for conveying and carrying out ideas when working with others.

2. A teacher/caregiver working from social learning theory may suggest that the children have learned this response from observing models in the environment. The children are imitating a behavior that they observed other children doing. The teacher/caregiver will most likely decide to actively model non-aggressive strategies for solving problems.

3. A teacher/caregiver knowledge of cognitive-developmental theory may think that the students have constructed from past experiences a mental schema that involved solving problems with force. This teacher/caregiver might provide concrete experiences in which non-aggressive solutions are highlighted and discussed so that the children will begin to accommodate a plan for solving problems.

We’ve talked a bit about child development theories, let’s talk about children at risk. If a child is part of a financially secure family, they aren’t at risk, right?

Dr. Desjardin: In the US, up to 25% of those under the age of 17 are “at risk”. This means about 18 million youths are facing issues with poverty, health, family problems, substandard living conditions, and inadequate education. At risk describes students who are considered to have a higher probability of failing academically or dropping out of school. Any child can be at risk, and financial security is only one of many factors that can create challenges for our youth. Influences can include pop culture, peers, dysfunction in the family, and personality disorders. Factors affiliated with ‘at risk’ youths include their age, social media, sexual activity, social groups/gangs, drug use, and gender.

What do ‘at risk’ youths need to succeed?

Dr. Desjardin: There are many aspects and attributes that “at risk” youth require to succeed in a positive platform in the school and home environment. A shortened list includes positive family communication, family support and involvement, community ties, and positive role models and influence. Increasing positive community ties has the potential to improve economic outcomes for at risk youth and has the likelihood to reduce negative or risk-taking behaviors. The strengthen and mobilizing of communities has the ability to build strong youth which in turn develop into ideal role model citizens. The community relationship does not only include social services initiatives but could also include the media, local business leaders, faith communities, policymakers, recreation availabilities, schools, juvenile justice, housing authority, and law enforcement. Nannies can be an important part of family and community support.

You shared up to 25% of children are at risk, what percentage of children are advanced?

Dr. Desjardin: Federal reports approximate 3-5% of the school population can be considered gifted or talented. Giftedness refers to children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others their age, experience or environment. Talented learners are those who have particular abilities in sport, music, design or creative and performing arts.

What are some common misconceptions about advanced children?

Dr. Desjardin: There are many myths and misconceptions of advanced youth. Some feel all children and people are gifted but, in this case, the definition of advanced focuses on a child with an outstanding talent. Others believe gifted students must be high achievers; however, not all gifts are academic. A child can be gifted musically or artistically while struggling to understand math. Along these lines, it’s possible that a child can be advanced or gifted in one specific area and at the same time have a disability in another area. Another misconception is that gifted students only come from advantaged homes.

How can Nannies support advanced children?

Dr. Desjardin: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented shares helpful strategies when working with advanced and gifted children. These include evaluating your parenting or caregiver style to align with the child, focusing on positive aspects of behavior, and providing unstructured time. Nannies can also provide an enriched environment with lots of materials and opportunities for exploration. Creativity requires a nurturing and expressive environment, so allow for regression, solitude, and divergent thinking. Finally, use every date tasks to help with decision making and make learning fun. A child’s motivation and interest will increase if pressure is taken off homework and other academic material.

Thank you, Dr. Desjardin, for your time tonight!! If you aren’t already, please follow Amslee Institute on social media to see weekly articles published by our faculty and other Facebook live chats.

To learn more, an Advanced Children and Children at Risk courses are available with enrollment in the Childcare programs.