The early years are a highly sensitive period of development. What happens then has life-long effects on how a person learns, loves, and lives. Despite high-quality child care and preschool, parents are a child’s most important and influential teacher. So what can parents do to support their child’s path to becoming a caring, competent, contributing adult?
A healthy birth. It is important for the mother to have good nutrition and avoid tobacco, alcohol and other toxic substances. Medical pre-natal care as well as support for the mother to remain calm and healthy is also important.
A secure foundation. Babies thrive with parents who respond sensitively to their cues and signals, creating a strong sense of security.
A rich language environment. How and how much parents talk to their young children matters a great deal to future learning. Talk to children well before they are able to talk back. Tell stories, sing songs, and ask “how?” and “why?” and “what if?”
Time to play and explore. Infants and young children are naturally curious and eager to explore. Guide your child as they explore the world around them in a safe environment.
Clear and reasonable limits. To learn and grow, children need limits expressed in clear, simple language. Without limits, children feel insecure and overwhelmed by their impulses.
Opportunities to make choices. Making choices prepares children for independence. Give your toddler a choice between two healthy snacks or wearing the red shirt or blue shirt.
Safety from violence and trauma. Not only does physical and emotional abuse negatively impact a child’s development, studies show that even seeing violence does equal harm to young children.
The most important thing a child needs in the early years is YOU! Sensitive, loving parents who respond to their child’s needs create a solid foundation for optimal development and growth.
Source: “Parenting in the Early Years,” by Marti Erickson, Ph.D., National Council on Family Relations through Lifetrack’s Education Services.