What Do Voters Understand about Young Children’s Emotional Development?

American voters understand the importance of the early years in building a strong foundation for life success, and support public investment in supporting young children’s healthy social-emotional development, according to a national survey released by ZERO TO THREE and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Voters’ Attitudes Toward Emotional Development in Young Children and Infants highlights the findings from focus groups, interviews, and a national survey of more than 1,000 registered voters. The research was undertaken to understand:

  • Public awareness of and attitudes toward social-emotional health and development in young children and infants,
  • Parents’ attitudes and behaviors, and
  • Perspectives on policy ideas to support the healthy development of infants and toddlers.

Highlights from the report include:

  • Nearly all voters feel that brain development in infants and toddlers is important and that society should support the healthy emotional development of children ages three and younger.
  • A large majority of voters (85%) agree that experiences in the first three years of a child’s life can lead to mental health issues later in life, and nearly all voters (95%) believe that both emotional and physical milestones are crucial to a child’s healthy development.
  • Large majorities of voters want pediatricians to advise and guide parents about the social-emotional health of babies and toddlers (73%) and want child care providers to speak up if they have concerns about the emotional development of children in their care (82%).
  • Nearly all voters (97%) believe that parents should have resources to help them be aware of the emotional development of their children.

Voters also agree that policies should be in place that support the emotional development of infants and toddlers. A majority of voters in all political parties (Democrats, Republicans, and Independents) reported that they are either “very” or “somewhat” supportive of the following policies:

  • Expanding access to affordable, quality childcare for working families.
  • Giving new parents more flexible paid time off options so they can spend more time at home with their babies.
  • Expanding Early Head Start to give more low-income families access to medical, mental health, nutrition, and education services.
  • Expanding access to child development specialists or pediatricians so it is easier to get help with emotional development.
  • Increasing access to home visits by child development professionals for new parents.

The report also highlighted areas where greater public awareness and understanding is needed, including:

  • Only about a third (35%) understand that witnessing repeated violence can affect a child, even one who is younger than six months old.
  • While a majority of voters (78%) believed that experiencing a trauma – such as abuse, physical or emotional neglect – can have a “big impact” on the emotional development of babies and toddlers, fewer (49%) believed that a parent’s emotional state (like whether a mother or father is happy or sad in the months following his or her baby’s birth) could have a “big impact” on a child’s emotional development.

The findings are relevant to the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading initiative (Pathways). A Pathways Design Team that includes state-level experts, local providers and parent is creating a policy and practice agenda o advance NC children’s social-emotional health and development. There are also Design Teams on high quality birth-through-age-eight education and regular school attendance, both of which also impact early literacy.

Read the full report, which includes breakdowns by race and ethnicity, political affiliation, parents of young children, and first time parents.