Students must feel safe, secure before learning: Dr. Gabor Maté

Children need healthy, nurturing relationships with adults to thrive in school says Dr. Gabor Maté, who presented the keynote address at the N.W.T. educators' conference in Yellowknife this week.

Keynote speaker at N.W.T. teachers' conference says early childhood shapes the future

The keynote speaker at a territorial educators' conference in Yellowknife this week says schools need to make children feel safe, secure, welcome and wanted before they can teach.

Dr. Gabor Maté is a medical doctor from Vancouver who’s studied and written about addictions as well as childhood stress.

He says the latest research shows that our psychology, personality and even biological responses to the world are shaped in early childhood.

“We’re just like other creatures,” Maté says.

“When you look at a plant that's not developing, you're not going to diagnose it with a disease, you're not going to yell at it to grow up. You're going to see what's missing, what conditions are lacking — nutrition, minerals, sunlight, irrigation.

"Same thing with human beings, and it just so happens that the most important influence in human beings is actually the emotional contact with nurturing adults.”

He says that making children feel safe and secure in school will allow them to relax, making it easier for them to learn, be curious and absorb new information.

Maté also says stress in early childhood can have a negative effect on children's health. 

For example, Maté says children whose parents are stressed are more likely to have asthma.

Maté's address was titled "Peer Orientation: Why Children Are Stressed, Why Parents and Teachers are Disempowered and How to Restore a Healthy Balance in Adult-Child Relationships."

He was just one of several high profile speakers to attend the event.

Teachers at the conference were also able to hear from Stuart Shankar, whose work on self-regulation has been adopted into several school systems, including in the Northwest Territories.

According to Shankar, research shows that the more children can regulate their own behavior, the better they can rise to the challenge of mastering ever more complex skills and concepts.