New parenting book shines light on social and emotional learning

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Laura Jana, a recent faculty appointment at the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center at Penn State, is over the moon.

She just released her newest book, “The Toddler Brain: Nurture the Skills Today that Will Shape Your Child’s Tomorrow.” The how-to manual for parents encourages social and emotional skill-building during the first five years — critical years in brain development — in order to prepare children to succeed in the 21st century.

In her book, Jana cites the findings from a 20-year-long study led by Damon Jones, D. Max Crowley, and Mark Greenberg, researchers in the Prevention Research Center. They found that children who had better social and emotional skills at age 5 were more likely to have earned a high school diploma, attend college, and have a full-time job at age 25.

“Everyone should stop and pay attention to this Penn State study,” said Jana. “When it comes to valuable research, I’ve yet to find any better work than what Mark Greenberg and Karen Bierman are doing.”

Both Greenberg and Bierman are world-renowned researchers in social and emotional development.

Still, Jana has more than a few credentials from which to draw. She is a pediatrician, a former preschool owner, a strategic consultant to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the director of innovation at the University of Nebraska’s Medical Center, College of Public Health, and a mother of three.

Although Jana admits that she is not a researcher, the book is steeped in research. Rather, Jana considers herself more of a translator, a strategic storyteller.

“The Toddler Brain” explains, in simple terms, why parents, business owners, educators, and policymakers should care more about early childhood development.

Jana provides insight into those skills children will need to adapt to a rapidly changing world, skills like creativity, critical thinking, character, empathy, adaptability, grit, perseverance, drive, and resilience. 

She calls these skills “QI” (pronounced “key”). QI skills are what academia call “soft” or “non-cognitive” skills and, over the years, have taken a back seat to “book-learning.”

To help everyone understand the importance of QI skills, Jana creatively translates social, emotional, and executive functioning terms regularly used by scientists into seven easy-to-remember names: ME, WE, WHY, WILL, WIGGLE, WOBBLE and WHAT IF.

Because even businesses today are recognizing the importance of these skills, Jana uses business and economic terms like “the start-up of your baby” and “strategic parenting plan” to demonstrate the interconnection with parenting.

Jana is just as excited about collaborating with the Prevention Research Center. She feels fortunate to have met Meg Small, director of social intervention at the Prevention Research Center, while working on an early childhood design-thinking project with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“I’m eager to work with colleagues who, like me, are committed to taking a holistic approach to early childhood and children’s well-being,” she said. “I can’t see a better place where you have collaboration, design-thinking, funding, research, and vision than here at Penn State.”

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Last Updated July 28, 2017