Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Team Member Spotlight: Ilse

From the Dutch Lowlands to the Utah Highlands! 
When I landed in Salt Lake City for the first time in my life, on a beautiful spring day in 1999, I was pleasantly surprised by all the tulips! Seeing them immediately made me think of home, as tulips are the unofficial national flower of The Netherlands (aka Holland), my country of origin. Salt Lake is very different from The Netherlands in other aspects, not least of which are its mountains, towering over the city, while large parts of The Netherlands are below sea level!
My husband and I moved to Utah early in 2000, because I found a job with the Psychology Department at the University of Utah. Early on, I did research on mother-infant relationships and early childhood development with Dr. Alan Fogel. The first person I met in his lab had a Dutch grandmother! She is still one of my best friends here, and she showed me how friendly and hospitable people in Utah are. Coming from the big city of Amsterdam, I loved seeing so many friendly, smiling faces!

After several years, I also began to teach Infancy and Early Childhood Development at the University, and I still love teaching. Babies are the most amazing creatures! They are extremely cute, but they also have a lot going on in their internal worlds. They communicate so much without even having words: with their eye gaze, body position, muscle tension, facial expression, and in many other ways. They also understand much more than you’d think! They understand basic number concepts, language sounds, and emotional expressions from the people around them. Some research even suggests that they can remember experiences that happen during the first year of their lives until about one and a half years later.  Of course, they cannot tell us these things, so all that we can do is observe them, very carefully.

To support the well-being of infants and their families, I joined the Utah Association for Infant Mental Health in 2002. UAIMH supports the earliest beginnings of mental health, which includes secure attachment relationships, healthy exploration, emotion regulation, and expressing a wide range of emotions, including joy and exuberance.  In 2015, I was thrilled to join the team at Help Me Grow Utah as a Child Development Specialist.  This gives me the chance to support the well-being of young children and their families more directly as I talk to staff and parents who have specific questions, especially about social-emotional development. 

I still teach about infancy development at the University of Utah, and I am currently President of UAIMH. But what I love the most right now, is to work directly with parents at Help Me Grow! It is so gratifying to try and find out, together with parents, what is going on with a child. If we know more about where behaviors come from, we can then point a family in the right direction by finding resources (in the community or informational) and creative things to do at home that help support that family and child. 

I love that Help Me Grow focuses on the positive and on relationships! We all have strengths, and we all grow through our relationships. So it is essential to support positive relationships! This is what we do at Help Me Grow Utah: as a team, between community partners, and with parents. We are trying to make the world a better place, and I hope we succeed, little by little!

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