H.E.A.R.T. of the matter

DOs partner with Erikson Institute to promote early childhood development

The new project is designed help parents stimulate healthy brain development in children from infancy through adolescence.

Giving children a strong foundation for growth and brain development doesn’t require high-tech toys, expensive gadgets or educational videos.

All it really takes is H.E.A.R.T. (Hug, Engage, Ask, Read, Talk).

That’s the message behind a new partnership between the AOA and the Erikson Institute designed to help guide parents as they support early learning and development for their children.

The AOA is collaborating with Erikson to develop an online curriculum for DOs who specialize in family practice, pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology. DOs and osteopathic medical students who complete three training modules—Child Social and Emotional Development, Risk and Protective Factors and Culture and Family Communication—will be eligible to receive a certificate in early childhood development from Erikson Institute.

The learning modules are expected to be available in early 2016.

Understanding that parents and physicians play an integral role in early childhood development, the project aims to provide DOs with tools to educate parents on the importance of simple but meaningful interaction with their child.

“As osteopathic physicians, we can teach parents so much,” said Scott S. Cyrus, DO, a pediatrician from Tulsa who introduced the partnership to physicians attending OMED 2015 in Orlando. “That positive impact can affect future generations.”

Engaging children as early as possible is key to achieving developmental milestones, according to Amanda Moreno, PhD, an assistant professor with the Erikson Institute who presented at OMED. “We now know that secure attachment leads to healthy autonomy, not dependency or clinginess,” she said, adding that by the time a child is 12 months old, they begin to learn whether their caregiver is attentive or not, adapting and developing coping mechanisms accordingly.

Dr. Moreno emphasized that a lack of attentiveness is not always severe enough to be classified as abuse or neglect. “Very subtle differences in the quality of the relationship can really make a difference,” she said.

Establishing a supportive and nurturing relationship early on will result in a more secure and emotionally stable child, Dr. Moreno noted. “If you have that security, you feel brave enough to explore the world,” she said.

Providing parents with guidance and encouragement is a vitally important part of the education process, according to Dr. Cyrus. “We really need to look at how we’re engaging parents,” he said. “We need to be a supportive presence.”

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