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Strong social connections can boost your child’s confidence and lead to new friendships. Not only can a child’s emotional development be hindered by a lack of social connection, but the physical growth of their brains can be as well. Research shows that reduced growth in the left hemisphere may lead to increased risk for depression in children who suffered neglect or another extreme form of insecure attachment in their early years. They may also exhibit an increased sensitivity in the limbic system which can lead to anxiety disorders, and a reduced growth in the hippocampus could contribute to learning and memory impairments.

While an infant’s primary need for social connections is met through bonding and connecting with primary caregivers. Young children also begin to create social relationships outside of their families by interacting with other children their age which helps children mature in their ability to interact with one another socially. As a child grows from a baby into a toddler, and then into a teenager and an adult, their social networks will shift and change dramatically. Positive social connections with people at all stages of life help ensure healthy development, both physically and emotionally. Remember, children learn by example and when they witness positive relationships or are emotionally supported, that observed behavior will aid in their emotional skills and cognitive functioning later on.

With the increase of social and economic stress impacting children and their families, it is important to have a good understanding of what the children in your care may be experiencing and may also give you an insight on how to motivate the disengaged. Sometimes kids are invisible in their own home. One thing we can do is find these invisible children, notice them, and honor their contributions.

Try this simple activity: Get a piece of paper and try to write down your whole class from memory. Most folks will normally forget between two to four children. These are the invisible children in your care that may not cause any trouble, may be quiet, introverted or have a difficult home life, but coast under the radar because they always do the right thing.

Inclusion isn't just about the most obvious, such as identified special needs or challenging behaviors, It's about giving every child an opportunity feel important; to feel they belong and are seen.

In a learning environment, having shared experiences and spaces, an active learning environment and a daily routine helps establish a good foundation to include all children. Small gestures for children go a long way too, especially if they have been "invisible" for some time. Getting to know the children in your care enables you to have a deeper understanding of them and in turn help you get the best outcomes for them.

Make friendly comments or ask questions. Telling a child that you heard she scored a goal in football or that you saw his dad in the supermarket takes less than five seconds but immediately makes the child feel known. Asking questions such as: "How was your brother's birthday?" lets students know that we have paid attention to them and remember things they have said or shared with us during circle time or on the playground. 

Recommend a book. Another easy place to start is to select a book you think a certain child might like. It could relate to their interests or be connected to their home life. Let them know why you thought of it for them or better yet, take a few minutes to read it with them.

Leave a sticky note or send home a note. Write notes to children on a regular, rotating basis. They don't need to be long; just a quick note saying you have noticed something or a reinforcement of something you've seen. "Nayo, I read your story while you were at lunch! Wow, it has a lot of action, and that picture you drew of the main character holding onto the cliff made everything seem so exciting."

Recommendation: IdahoSTARS Active Supervision TTA This 3-hour PD opportunity is an interactive instructional conversation designed to help childcare providers actively supervise and support children through all learning environments both indoors and outdoors. This TTA (Targeted Technical Assistance) helps you implement practices that reduce the risk of injury and document quality interactions for all children in your care.