After my years of experience working in a neuroscience lab, I honed a keen sense of curiosity about brain development, and a research-backed belief that positive childhood experiences are very important. My work on child abuse prevention actually comes full circle with this interest, now that we know from the landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study that abuse, neglect, separation from parents and other stressful experiences are risk factors for major problems thoughout a lifetime. More childhood ACEs are associated with drug use, suicide attempts, and experiencing sexual violence later in life. And these health effects even extend to developing diseases including cancer and heart disease years later. Of course we must try to reduce the harmful effects later in life, and we should get to the heart of the problem by reducing ACEs as much as possible during childhood. This means having a strong support system for families, and help to reduce poverty, incarceration of parents, and help to stop child abuse. That is a tall order and in too many cases it feels like US society is running full speed ahead in the opposite direction right now. I am committed to doing what I can to help support families and organizations to create safe environments for children.
My own mother grew up in a financially secure yet emotionally insecure and unsafe environment. Her stressful and traumatic childhood took a toll on her, yet she became a wonderful mother against all odds. She consciously strove to do the opposite of what her own parents did, and she got constructive training through Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, and P. E. T., Parent Effectiveness Training. Both of these classic books are still in print, and my favorite modern-day parenting resource is the Positive Parenting Solutions course and book by Amy McCready, “If I Have to Tell You One More Time….”
But even before we consider skillful and effective parenting and communication, we need to form a base of safety and security that is free of violence and abuse. That core belief fuels my commitment and dedication to Kidpower training and the new book co-authored by me and Kidpower Founder Irene van der Zande, Doing Right by Our Kids—Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.
How has my experience as a neuroscientist shaped me? I have a vital curiosity about the brain, human behavior, and how the environment affects people. My Stanford training and years as a research scientist honed my research skills and have helped me identify and create key resources that promote child safety, abuse prevention, and harm reduction.