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Tackle violence early

By 18 months, a baby is able to read other people's emotions. So good parenting skills in the early years are crucial to raising an emotionally balanced child

SUPPORTING PARENTS to raise emotionally balanced children must be at the heart of any bid to tackle escalating violence in the UK, an Edinburgh conference will be told today.

Instead of trying to pick up the pieces when lives have been irreparably damaged by violence child abuse, assault, domestic abuse we must look at what makes people lash out. And that is early childhood experiences, according to George Hosking, the keynote speaker at an Association of Directors of Education in Scotland conference, which aims to raise the awareness of the importance of the early years.

Mr Hosking is the founder of the Worldwide Alternatives to ViolencE (WAVE) Trust, which researches the root causes of violence. Drink, violence on television, drugs all these things can trigger violence, according to Mr Hosking, but only if people have a propensity for violence, caused by their upbringing.

"Not all people are violent when they get drunk," said Mr Hosking, a psychologist and clinical criminologist. "But some people are predisposed to violence and, in them, alcohol acts as a trigger. This propensity to violence comes from parenting."

The Dun-edin Multi-disciplinary Health and Develop-ment Study found that nurses could identify the three-year-olds that would grow up to be violent adults just by watching them play. By age 21, the boys they selected were more than twice as likely to have two or more criminal convictions. Forty-seven per cent abused their partners.

"Violent criminals and psycho-paths are frequently said to show a complete lack of emotion," continued Mr Hosking, who earlier this week met the Prime Minister to discuss Britain's gangs, guns and knives problem. "These people don't have emotion, because it was shut off in childhood that's the only way to cope in the environments they are raised in."

Mr Hosking praised initiatives such as the nurse-family partnership, which was endorsed by WAVE for the first time in 2001 and was piloted by the UK government early this year. The scheme provides intensive support to deprived first-time young mothers and their babies.

Roots of Em-pathy also received the WAVE Trust's seal of approval. The programme involves a mother and baby visiting a primary class every three weeks for a year, so all children know what a nurturing relationship looks like.

Mr Hosking's message that the early years are crucial will be reinforced by Suzanne Zeedyk, a senior lecturer in psychology at Dundee University, who is also speaking at the conference. According to Dr Zeedyk, we have to start taking babies seriously.

"A less violent world is within our grasp," she said. "We just have to decide where to put the money. By 18 months, babies' abilities to read other people's emotions are pretty much set. If you can't read people's emotions, you're more likely to be a bully. You can intervene later, of course, but it's less likely to be effective so doing it later is just dumb."

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