Simms/Mann Think Tank Offers Latest in Early Childhood Development

November 26, 2019
From left: Pat Levitt, Wendy Slusser, Satchin Panda, Ruth Feldman and Dr. Fernando Martinez discuss early childhood development practices at the Simms/Mann Institute Think Tank. Photo by Ryan Torok

More than 300 people attended the sixth annual Simms/Mann Institute Think Tank on Oct. 28 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. The subject was “Rituals, Routines and Body Rhythms: The Simple and Profound Impacts of When We Eat, Sleep and Pray for Health Across the Lifespan.”

Speakers included Ruth Feldman, the Simms/Mann professor of developmental social neuroscience at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, Israel, whom Mann Simms calls one of the preeminent scientists in early child development.

Feldman discussed the parenting method Kangaroo Care, whereby parent and child have chest-to-chest, skin-to-skin contact. This creates greater synchrony — or attunement — between the two, Feldman said. Kangaroo Care, she added, also may increase a child’s empathy.

University of Maryland professor of human development Nathan Fox spoke about teaching children to overcome their anxiety. “If the anxious brain has a bias toward threats, training the brain to focus less on threats is possible,” he said.

Salk Institute of Biological Studies professor Satchin Panda, author of the “The Circadian Code” and a leading expert in circadian rhythm research, spoke about natural biological clocks, saying that keeping the body on a schedule is vital for one’s well-being. “The brain needs downtime and a person needs sunlight,” he said, adding sunlight is the greatest and cheapest anti-depressant. 

Underwater explorer Jill Heinerth discussed her anxiety and triumphs around cave-diving at the Simms/Mann Institute Think Tank. Courtesy of the Simms/Mann Institute

Jodi Mindell, professor of psychology and associate director of the sleep center at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, discussed “The Power of Bedtime Routines.” If a child is not sleeping, she said, it means there are other issues at play. “Sleep is a window into a child’s functioning,” she said.

Mann Simms concurred, emphasizing the importance of building routines around a child’s bedtime, making sure they go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. “It’s all about integrating the whole,” she said. “The child is only as good as the parent is.”

Susan Kaiser Greenland, an expert on mindfulness for kids, spoke about how objects in the home, such as a snow globe, can teach children how to master their emotions. When a child’s thoughts are unsettled, judgment is cloudy, just as one cannot see through a shaken snow globe, she said. The opposite, she added, also is true: When a child is more calm and composed, they can see more clearly and make smarter decisions.

“Treat unpleasant emotions as visitors at a dinner party,” Greenland quipped. “Transitory and not that substantial.”

Wendy Slusser, associate vice provost for the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center at UCLA, gave tips to parents on what to do if their children are defiant. She advised delivering a command in a close, calm and quiet way, using the acronym CCQ for her method.

Jill Heinerth, underwater explorer and consultant to Hollywood director James Cameron, led a discussion about exploring underwater caves in far-flung locales, including inside icebergs in the Antarctic. Mann Simms explained that including Heinerth in the program was done to show how people can overcome stressful experiences.

Dr. Fernando Martinez, a professor of pediatrics at University of Arizona, spoke about exposing children to bacteria to build up immune systems. He said parents have to exercise caution, but should be comfortable introducing children to a certain amount of risk. “We have to base our lives not on fear, but on trust,” he said.

Addressing the attendees, Mann Simms said, “You all have a unique ability to incorporate the research presented today into your own lives and the lives of children, families and communities you serve. Here is an area where even small changes in behavioral habits have the potential to make a big impact on the overall health of all of our children.”

Read more about Victoria Mann Simms here. 

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