Arm people with emotional resilience, not guns

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Despite all the controversy surrounding gun control laws, we can all agree on one fact: Guns are fired by people. And our concern is for people. People who are students, people who are parents, people who are siblings, people who are in pain, people who feel isolated, people who feel invincible, people who are in love, people who are vengeful, people with shame, people with guilt, and people who are too young to protect themselves. We should focus on arming all people with emotional resilience instead of with guns. If we arm people with emotional resilience, then guns will become irrelevant.

Early childhood is a great place to begin. Yes, we need to arm teachers, but not with guns. We need to arm teachers with knowledge and understanding of children’s emotional development, which includes building empathy, trust and compassion. We need to build resiliency in children — resiliency to navigate the struggles they face today so they can cope with challenges in the future. The early childhood teacher who has a deep understanding of children can help identify those who are struggling with developmental disruptions that can diminish their capacity to develop resiliency.

Brain research identifies the importance of the first five years of life. This means we can impact a generation every five years. Many of the pathologies we see in the school shootings tragedies are behaviors that can be identified earlier in life. Too often, those behaviors have gone unnoticed or unattended. In quality early childhood programs, we can begin to identify children with developmental disruptions that impede the development of empathy, trust and compassion.

Schools need to be a place where all can feel safe to open their arms to families as partners in their child’s growth and development. Meaningful relationships with families make it possible for teachers to intervene when necessary, as they offer support to families.

Early intervention and relationship building are essential for supporting children and families. Let’s open our arms to others and become a caring community.

See Steve Zwolak's letter to the editor published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 9 , 2013