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BOARD MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Andrew (Andy) N. Meltzoff

"I’m encouraged by the engagement of ZERO TO THREE in the major events of today that influence families, children, and society..."

Andrew N. Meltzoff, Co-Director, Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS)

An Interview With Andrew (Andy) N. Meltzoff, co-director of the University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS), Professor of Psychology.

Editor’s Note: We’ve invited ZERO TO THREE Board Member, Andy Meltzoff, to share his perspectives and reflections with you. You can learn more about his pioneering research of infant learning and social understanding on his bio page on the ZERO TO THREE website.

What has it meant to you to a be a member of ZERO TO THREE’s Board of Directors?

It is a privilege and thrill to be on the Board. Babies are in the spotlight now. It wasn’t always that way. As a lifelong researcher on infant social–emotional and cognitive development, the work of ZERO TO THREE means a lot to me both personally and professionally.

What is happening at ZERO TO THREE right now that you are most excited about?

I’m encouraged by the engagement of ZERO TO THREE in the major events of today that influence families, children, and society. These include the COVID-19 pandemic and issues of justice and equality. In these uncertain times, it can be difficult for parents to remember to take time for themselves. Yet, we know that parents, caregivers, and professionals are better able to support the children in their care when their own stress levels are at manageable levels and when they can be fully present. This sometimes goes under the banner of mindfulness, and it is emerging as a useful tool for children and adults alike. The mindfulness resources provided by ZERO TO THREE are fantastic. They offer useful strategies for incorporating mindfulness practices into parenting practices and professional settings – and you can even join a 15-minute guided mindfulness session each Friday. We could all benefit from mindfulness practices these days!

As you observe the world around you, what is an issue affecting young children and their families and caregivers that concerns you? How do you think ZERO TO THREE can help?

The issue of the COVID-19 pandemic, which threatens the health of society, and the issue of racism/inequity, which threaten the soul of society, both profoundly affect children and families. They are similar, but also importantly different. Scientists will create a vaccine that successfully inoculates us against COVID-19. However, try as we might, there is no simple “inoculation” for racism and injustice. Moreover, we citizens can offload the search for the COVID-19 cure to immunologists, but we cannot offload the search for ameliorating racism/inequality to experts. Rather, we are all part of finding the cure—it’s the epitome of crowdsourcing.

My own research has shown that children are constantly learning from the adults around them, and the science shows that this applies to learning social biases too. Some of our research has concerned how young children “catch” prejudice from watching the behavior of others in their family or the surrounding culture. Children are aware of race from an early age, and they absorb ideas about what race and identity mean from the adults in their lives. One thing we can do as we work toward change is to talk to our children about race. You don’t need to have all of the answers, but you can create a safe space for discussion. Children who talk about race with adults are more likely to see and recognize discrimination when it occurs, and they are more likely to take action. We have created tips for parents, clinicians, and educators about teaching children how to “resist” racial stereotypes (see modules # 13 & 14 in the I-LABS Training Library). ZERO TO THREE also has a number of resources that are beneficial for parents, providers, and policymakers in this realm. From the State of the Babies Yearbook for policymakers, to tips for parents on talking with children about race and violence, ZERO TO THREE can use its national platform to effect real change for children and families.

As you look toward the future, what do you see on the horizon for families with young children and/or for the professionals who work with and support them?

The global pandemic has put a spotlight on child care. So many parents and caregivers suddenly added “early learning educator” to their list of job titles, as families followed social distancing without typical access to child care. After the first week, many parents commented that “early learning providers deserve to make a thousand dollars a day!” We all appreciate the additional recognition of the value of early learning providers, but it’s important to keep the momentum going. As we begin to think about what life will be like on the other side of the pandemic, parents and professionals are going to face difficult decisions about when and how to reopen child care. Those of us who support parents and professionals will need to think about the different kinds of professional development the profession needs, the kinds of policies that will best support child care, and the challenges we will all face. But at the same time, society has learned the child care providers are among our most “essential workers.” If the politicians want to get the economy going again, they will have to help with child care. If we don’t have high-quality options for the babies, large segments of the population will not be able to return to work. The health of the economy and the well-being of the parents depend on what we do for the babies. We’ve known this all along, and politicians are learning it these days.

What is something that ZERO TO THREE members, staff, and even other Board Members might be surprised to know about you?

Andy at the beach as a toddler.

Each summer when I was growing up, we went to a beach town not far from where Bruce Springsteen now roams. I was a local surfer. A friend of mine became one of Bruce’s chief bodyguards. Many years later, Bruce passed through Seattle on tour, and I went to a downtown hotel and talked with him (for a short time) about the beach and babies.

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