(This is a review of what I believe is an important new resource for the PACEs [for positive and adverse childhood experiences] science movement. Opinions expressed are my own, and are shared as a parent, advocate, author, and longtime student of trauma, healing, and prevention. Thoughts are also shared through my lens as someone who believes, deeply, in the incredible importance of and value in building healthier, more compassionate communities to support and nurture pregnant and new mothers; new parents and caregivers; young families. Full disclosure: Deborah McNelis's company, Brain Insights, will soon be listed as a PACEs Connection partner, and is donating to PACEs Connection 5% of the profits from the sale of materials sold to our members or member organizations.)
Deborah McNelis's newest offering, “The First 60 Days,” booklet (link is to a 12-page sample) is her heartfelt response to groundbreaking research by Dr. Bruce Duncan Perry and colleagues showing the negative developmental impact of toxic stress the first two months of life, and the importance of practicing what she calls "Neuro-Nurturing ®” during this influential time in infant brain development.
Her booklet dispels 22 potentially harmful myths about caring for newborns, among them:
- Repeatedly responding to and picking up a crying baby will spoil them.
- Just like the heart is fully developed at birth, the brain is fully developed.
- Babies are too young. They don't know what is happening.
- Rocking the baby creates a bad habit.
- Your level of stress doesn't matter to a baby.
- If left alone babies will learn to self-regulate.
While it is not hefty, the booklet is packed with research-based recommendations, and is the capstone to McNelis’s decades of work with children and families. Over the course of some four decades in education, family support, and community building work, she created and introduced her “Neuro-Nurturing ® series of ringed, pocket-sized books, filled with loving and easy activities for caregivers to use with children at each age and stage, from newborn through age five. (These are books I definitely would have loved to have had when my children were young!)
What about those of us who didn’t necessarily have a Neuro-Nurturing ® start? Or children who may have experienced a lot of trauma? Or professionals who work with people who’ve experienced developmental trauma?
The research that moved McNelis to write her booklet was shared in the book "What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing” by Perry and co-author Oprah Winfrey.
In their New York Times best-seller, Perry and Winfrey share ways to help heal Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
They also share causes of trauma as well as many ways we can help prevent it, including nurturing infants and children, building more compassionate communities, and being aware of the impact of racism and working to prevent it.
Those are parts of "What Happened to You?” that I loved most, so much so, in fact, that I have given away about twenty copies of it, reviewed it here on PACEs Connection, and last summer, with the help of partners including the Children’s Trust Fund Alliance and Prevent Child Abuse Georgia, helped drive a national book study of it, resulting in about 140 community-led book studies. That effort also resulted in a PACEs Connection webinar with Perry and PACEs Connection CEO Ingrid Cockhren and director of outreach and education Mathew Portell.
McNelis’s ringed books, though first published in 2008, show a mindfulness to racial diversity that was not often seen 15 years ago. The origin of the ringed books is quite dear, too.
"As a kindergarten teacher for 10 years, I was constantly asked by parents about what to do with their new babies and toddlers, the siblings of my students. So I created index cards of activities to promote bonding, fun, and love – by age and stage – and shared the cards to provide quick and easy answers. And that is how these popular ringed booklets came to be," McNelis said.
My take? Were we to truly leverage the findings of Perry and colleagues in their seminal paper, “Beyond the ACE score: Examining relationships between timing of developmental adversity, relational health and developmental outcomes in children”, published in 2018, and adopt, nationally, a program of “Neuro-Nurturing ®”, starting with this beautiful booklet of McNelis’s, we would likely see massive shifts in society within a generation.
We'd likely see a reduction in violence, child abuse, neglect, learning delays, school expulsions and suspensions, crime, domestic violence, poverty, racism and more.
Love begets love. Regulation begets regulation.
We have the resources to have a world influenced by Neuro-Nuturing ®, which could help babies receive the relational support science demonstrates helps promote healthy brain development and secure attachment.
I believe we’ll be hearing much more about the importance of the first two months of life from Oprah Winfrey, Perry’s co-author and friend of more than three decades, whose excitement in finding out about the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) Study in 2018 is likely matched by her learning about Perry’s research on showing the importance of a baby’s first two months.
One of the key findings? An infant who has healthy relational connections the first two months of life and has high adversity the next 12 years will likely have a better outcome than the infant who has really bad experiences first two months of life and a healthy environment the next 12 years.
"Think of that," Perry wrote in "What Happened to You?". "The child who has only two months of really bad experiences does worse than the child with almost twelve years of bad experiences, all because of the timing of the experiences.
He continued, "This sounds discouraging, But we believe that poor outcomes are not inevitable; in fact, we believe that this is a perfect example of why we need developmentally informed, trauma-aware systems," he said in the book.
Winfrey's excitement about learning this information is palpable in the video clip below. In it Winfrey says she would be “so satisfied” if she could get the message out about the importance of the first two months of life.
As a society, we need to take our claims that we love our children and make them so!
If you are having a baby, have young children, or know people who’re having having a baby, consider these materials as a gift to yourself and your family, or as the perfect baby gift.
If you’re on a hospital board, or own a business having anything to do with children, consider buying the materials in bulk and customizing them with your logo. This also applies if you are part of an advocacy agency or organization, a medical practice, or community group. Or if you are a policymaker or work in city, county, or state government.
According to McNelis, “The materials are impressive promotional items that grab attention for your efforts, while contributing to a positive influence. State agencies, zoos, an Audubon Society chapter, health organizations, and more have bought these items as 'premiums' for new and expectant parents, as well as parents who needed parenting support. One state agency bought 47,000 sets and customized them with their logo.
"Visiting nurse organizations, a state representative who is also on a hospital board, judges and people in law enforcement are interested in the booklets for incarcerated mothers, foster parents, parents needing support," she added.
Further, McNelis is donating five percent of the net profits from sales of the materials to PACEs Connection, when you mention PACEs Connection as the way you found out about her work.
For more information about ordering “The First 60 Days” booklets or the “Neuro-Nurturing ®” ringed books, please visit the Brain Insights website, or email McNelis at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive your quantity order discount code.