Transcription – English – Keren Epstein Gilboa

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Keren Epstein Gilboa:
I'm here as a person with a PhD in developmental psychology. My area of research and publications and teaching pertain to child and parental development as well as psychopathology. So I'm going to speak about that issue. I'm going to provide some insight into children's social and emotional experiences in the current context by comparing to established precepts and precepts that we had prior to the 2022 crisis. And it appears that children are not well understood. And I've heard maybe you have heard as well that people often say it's okay, kids are resilient. So let me tell you a little bit about human development. First, it's a multifaceted process that it's influenced by intrinsic factors such as physiological function, neurobiology, genes and temperament, in combination with environmental factors, in combination with interaction with the environment. And we look at protective and risk factors. So it's a compare the protective and risk factors will affect how someone will function, and that also affects resilience. So resilience in children is based on the risk versus the protective factors, and that means that children don't all react the same way their individual. Most importantly, there are sensitive periods in in development, and a sensitive period implies that a child is ready to complete a task needs to do it at that time. And if we miss the sensitive period, then we might miss a very important task. So obstructing required tasks in one domain development is based on multiple domains cognitive, motor, my area, social, emotional, and so on.

Keren Epstein Gilboa:
If we obstruct a task in one domain, it may affect development in other domains and it may affect the child later on. The brain is plastic, which means the brain is very flexible and can fix things. However, not all problems and many facets of the measures put in place in March 2020 have interfered with required developmental tasks and with thus be considered risk factors. Remember, I talked about protective versus risk factors. I'm going to provide some tangible examples by referring to development in infancy and early childhood, which is my area of specialty in research and courses that I taught and so on. There are few emerging studies in this area. I just I went over the studies in preparation for this presentation and there's one observational study by Deoni, Beauchemin and Volpe in 2021. It's a preprint and they found that there appear to be cognitive differences in children during this. This crisis. What's really interesting is that the CDC has updated the scale of developmental milestones. Developmental milestones is a task that you must achieve at a certain age. And they have implied that these tasks, such as walking and talking, now occur later. But it's also interesting that they did not refer to the crisis, the 2020-2022 crisis as as a contributing factor. So let's look now at infancy and childhood.

Keren Epstein Gilboa:
And what's really interesting is this period of development is very significant. Why? Because this is the time in the life cycle that the brain develops most rapidly. Most rapid development is in the first 45 months of life. And a very important factor that affects the quality of brain development is the quality of interaction between the infant and the child and their primary or other consistent caregivers. The renowned child psychoanalyst Winnicott stated, There is no baby without a mother, meaning that what you see happening in the mother is part of what's going on between the mother and this baby. So accordingly, parental capacities and experiences, including psychological well-being or pathology, will affect child and infant development. And we know that many of the parents now have endured ongoing anxiety and stress for the past 2.5 years. So this likely impacts their parenting scripts. Emerging research does replicate long standing research and shows that anxiety is experienced during pregnancy, and this may affect the mothers and also the partner's parenting capacity after birth. And we should also note that stress has physiological effects. The physiological mechanism associated with stress, which is the HPA access, is associated with high levels of cortisol, and that may affect maternal infant, the maternal fetal and the then maternal infant body. So we know that what's been happening now is likely affecting pregnant mothers and their fetuses. Birth also affects parenting and infant development, so decades of research have demonstrated that having a familiar support person, being able to move during birth, to be able to breathe properly and of course being supported by people in a calm atmosphere affect the quality of the birth and subsequent parenting.

Keren Epstein Gilboa:
Uninterrupted, uninterrupted calm and physiological birth is associated also with a continuum of hormones, especially we look at oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that causes us to attach to other people and to feel well. It also contracts a smooth muscle, so it helps the uterus contract, but it affects the weight when parents and oxytocin is also secreted in fathers, by the way, if they hold an infant close skin to skin or mutual regard. But despite all this longstanding research and practice, many birthing mothers have reported that during the past 2.5 years they have been separated from essential people. They've had to make a decision to have the inexperienced partner when they love with them during birth, or an experienced doula who can contain. And up until this crisis, we could have the whole family there, which was wonderful and supportive for the mother and then affected parenting. Some mothers have reported that they have found themselves there with inadequate support with the health team, all garbed up with with with Chris Schaefer calls them breathing obstructors. I hope I cited him properly on their faces and they're supposed to birth that way.

Keren Epstein Gilboa:
And most importantly, when the mother either chooses or is told to put a mask on that interferes with breathing. And if you've taken a good enough childbirth education course, you know, they always talk about breathing, enhances relaxation, secretion of hormones. And here mothers breathing is interfered with. So established research on birth trauma and birth trauma is is is a real event suggests that the quality of birthing during the 2022 crisis might have predispose some mothers to breastfeeding problems, postpartum depression, which is associated with muted interaction, other parenting difficulties, insensitive, and, as I said, muted interaction. And these all have consequences for infant and child development. Parental sensitivity implies that the parent is aware of and responds to the infant cues, and this helps infants develop a sense of the world as safe and secure, which affects learning, which affects relationships, it affects everything, and it lasts throughout our lives. This this feeling, this internal world that we internalize during infancy and early childhood. The what's very interesting is that the quality of attachment, if it's a secure attachment, also is reflected in the brain development, in the way that the cells, the synaptic connections and the pruning is is built in the brain. Security is instilled when the attuned caregiver matches their interventions in synchrony with the young infant's emotional needs and goals. So it's not just about changing a diaper and giving food. It's about what does this infant field and infants feel emotions from birth.

Keren Epstein Gilboa:
Essential, sensitive interaction includes the gradual inclusion of joint attention and shared emotional experiences. So here's what needs to happen. From birth onwards, caregivers and infants communicate through the use of essential visual, tactile, verbal, auditory and olfactory components. Infants like to smell their mothers. In other words, infants and young children must see. They must hear, they must touch, they must smell, and they must verbalize in order to ensure essential brain development. It's interesting to note that several of these interactional components are associated with the secretion of oxytocin, the hormone that I talked about before, which is, of course, is very important for multiple reasons. These interactions facilitate the development of emotional regulation and the capacity to understand others. These interactions, when an infant smells, touches, is close to sees. The face of the caregiver are the essential building blocks of a healthy function in all developmental domains and must be established during infancy and early childhood. So I'm going to compare that to what many infants and young children have been experiencing over the past 2.5 years. To varying degrees. They have different protective and risk factors in different families. So we compare this so many young humans have repeatedly been exposed to people without faces, without smiles, without expressions, and with a strange smelling cloth. In their face were some children above the tender age of two have been forced to wear these breathing instructors and they have to hide their own faces with the associated sensory deprivation and without regard for the fear or discomfort that is caused some children.

Keren Epstein Gilboa:
Think about how some children react when you try to put a snowsuit on or a hat and then think of this now of their face. So think what the what is the child's perspective? What does this feel like to the child? And remember that disregard for emotion is a risk factor leading to an insecure attachment system and a sense of the world as an unsafe place. Some children may be experiencing depression, anxiety and trauma, and all of those conditions are, you can see in infants as well. Infants can be depressed and they can most certainly be traumatized and so on. And that those factors may be in place when especially if there are minimal protective factors. The experience of separation from the primary caregiver at an early age, such as in a daycare situation, is difficult enough for some children, and often their emotional reactions to the separation is disregarded. Now let's add to that being left with people whose don't have faces and being restricted to your play area and not being able to crawl around, build and so on. There's restricted movement and restricted social groups, even in young children. All of these steps have consequences for motor and social development and play capacities.

Keren Epstein Gilboa:
In addition, many parents and children continue to cope with their parents anxiety, including the anxiety parents fear that the child may infect them. The infants and the or the infant, they may infect the infant or the infant may affect them. And so we have heard about mothers after birth, sometimes wearing masks or standing far away from their newborn child who used to be in their body. Thus, there are multiple risk factors that children have been forced to endure during a sensitive developmental period. In case we think that this really isn't important or significant, I will just refer to research on children adopted from Romanian orphanages. That research opened our eyes to the way that missed sensitive and supportive relational experiences may impair brain development with long standing consequences. Accordingly, many of these children retained the long term effects of inadequate interaction, neglect and trauma despite despite being adopted by loving families. Hence the measures imposed. And enforced restrictions that pose risks to normal to the normal developmental continuum and associated brain development. It is time to let go of the myth that all children are resilient and not affected by the measures. Resilience, again, is based on protective and risk factor the balance between protective and risk factors. It's time to put evidence based steps in place and to stop as well as fix the damage to our children. Any. Thank you. Questions or do I.

Trish Wood:
Maybe there's one one question.

Preston Manning:
Has this data been presented by you or your colleagues to governments, the provincial government, the federal government? And if so, what's the reaction?

Keren Epstein Gilboa:
It hasn't been presented to the best of my knowledge.

Preston Manning:
Why is that?

Keren Epstein Gilboa:
Because it's pretty new and. Yeah, yeah.

Preston Manning:
Will there be an effort to do this?

Keren Epstein Gilboa:
Yes, I will. Yeah, but I would imagine. I'll tell you, if I may, I have great frustration with many of my colleagues in the research and practitioners, because many are not saying. Very much about this. So. Hmm.

Trish Wood:
Well, the silence for a minute when you quit speaking was because what you said was so massive that I think everybody in the room was kind of as was. I bowled over for a minute. So thank you very much. And again, it was it was predictable, right? Like they only asked we would have known this. But anyway, we're hearing a lot of that. Thank you so much. We're very, very grateful to you.

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