THE MOST IMPORTANT YEARS OF THEIR LIFE
Early childhood is the most rapid and significant period of development in a human’s life. Babies are born with about 100 billion brain cells, but their neural pathways and connections are ‘wired’ in the first few years, mostly as a result of the child’s sensory experience with the outside world.
More than one million of these neural pathways are formed every second, which form a foundation for all future learning, behaviour and health. Research shows that if your child’s brain is not appropriately stimulated during this critical stage of development, it is very difficult to ‘rewire’ it at a later stage.
Is your child developing normally?
The term development is used to describe different aspects of your child’s physical growth, as well as their social, emotional, behavioural, thinking and communication skills. While every child grows at different rates, there are some common characteristics at each stage of development.
Babies (0-12 months)
Your child will grow and develop more in the first 12 months than any other time in their life. They begin to connect with the world around them using each of their senses and start to recognise emotions in themselves and other people. Physically, they will go from learning to control their head to standing or walking.
They will also learn how to make noises to get comfort and attention, from crying and laughing to saying simple words like ‘no’. Babies will learn to recognise people around them and understand simple instructions, like holding out their feet to put shoes on. They enjoy exploring their environment, by reaching for objects and crawling towards them.
Toddlers (1-3 years)
This is when your child will begin using language and go from saying one or two words, to having conversations of two or three sentences. Their physical development is also improving: they will begin walking well, climbing stairs, kicking a ball and other activities. This is the age where children want to do things without help, or play by themselves.
They may be prone to temper tantrums and become easily frustrated, using routines and objects for comfort and security. Cognitively, your child will start asking questions and develop an imagination, which means they may also start to develop fears like the dark or particular animals.
Preschoolers (3-6 years)
This period of development is when your child forms friendships and becomes more social. They learn how to share and play well with others, as well as speak clearly and communicate their feelings. Their fine motor skills and gross motor skills improve, allowing them to hold a pencil correctly, use their hands and fingers skilfully and become confident with physical activities like walking, running and climbing.
Your child will start becoming independent and hold conversations, where they may ask complex questions. Their self-esteem and ability to learn in a structured environment is particularly important at this age, and will determine their success at school.
When you need to trust your instincts
There are lots of things you can do to support your child’s development in the early years of life. It’s important to remember that children develop at different rates, but if you feel like some thing’s not quite right, trust your instincts and talk to your child health nurse, doctor or our team at Reggio Emilia ELC.
- Give your child a stimulating environment with lots of activities, where they can play and learn.
- Spend time playing, talking, reading and listening to your child without distractions like the TV.
- Use simple language and slowly build their vocabulary and the complexity of your instructions.
- Make your child feel safe and give them lots of physical affection like cuddles and kisses.
- Praise and encourage your child to build their self-esteem and encourage them to learn.
HOW YOUR PARENTING SKILLS AFFECT YOUR CHILD
As a parent or carer, you are the most powerful influence on your child’s development. The experiences your child has in their early years will shape the adults they become, affecting their physical and mental health for the rest of their lives. Experts now realise that childhood development isn’t a case of nature versus nurture, but a balance of the two.
For example, research shows that chronic stress in the early years of a child’s life can permanently affect their brain function and learning, as well as increase the risk of health problems such as alcoholism, depression, heart disease and diabetes. The good news is that creating stable and nurturing relationships in the early years of life can help prevent or reverse these damaging effects and provide lifelong benefits for learning, behaviour and health.
Top parenting tips
Good parenting is vital for giving your child a happy, healthy and successful future. These tips will help you be a positive role model for your child and provide a safe and supportive environment where they can thrive.
1. Practice what you preach
It’s easy to tell children what to do, but much harder to practice what you preach. Children are very good at knowing the difference between someone who is all talk and someone who actually believes what they are saying. The behaviours your child sees at home will be those they are more likely to replicate in their own life.
Research shows that children who regularly witness smoking, excessive drinking and eating are more likely to pick up these habits later in life. Choose to be a good role model to your child by practicing behaviours that you want your child to learn, such as patience, compassion, self-discipline, kindness, bravery, self-respect and generosity.
2. Help your child learn from experience
Children’s brains are incredibly ‘plastic’, changing and growing in response to each new experience. As a parent or carer, your job is to provide a safe and supportive environment where they can explore and learn from their environment. Just as scaffolding is put up around a building until it’s ready to stand on its own, you need to support your child until they are ready to move to the next stage of their development.
It’s important to let your child make decisions and show you are confident in their abilities, while also showing you are there for them when they fail or make mistakes. Helping your child learn from their experiences will give your child the skills they need to navigate challenges and opportunities in the years ahead.
3. Encourage and support your child
Research shows the best way to support your child’s cognitive development and social skills in the early years of life is to use a parenting style called responsive parenting. This involves providing high levels of affection and warmth to your child, as well as responding to their needs by listening and talking to them. You can also support their development by learning about their interests and helping your child explore them in different ways, so they feel like they are in charge of their learning.
When your child has negative feelings, instead of ignoring them or forcing them to change, try to listen calmly and let them express themselves, before guiding them towards the right decision. This will help you build a loving and supportive relationship with your child, which will promote curiosity, self-esteem and confidence.
4. Understand how your child learns
Children learn in many different ways, often using a combination of spatial (using pictures and images), aural (using sounds and music), linguistic (using speech and writing) and kinaesthetic (using the body and sense of touch) learning styles. Some children learn better when in groups, while others prefer to play alone.
Paying attention to how your child learns means you can support their development by explaining hard topics in a way they understand, whether it’s drawing pictures, singing songs, reading stories or building models. It’s important to remember that your child may not learn in the same way as you do, so give them the freedom to be themselves, so they can learn in a way that best meets their needs.
5. Discipline to teach, not punish
The way you discipline your child can impact their beliefs and behaviours for years to come. It’s important to make your child accountable for their decisions and allow them to follow through on their actions, rather than jumping in to help whenever they get stuck. This will not only help them develop problem-solving skills and independence, but help them understand their strengths and weaknesses.
When your child demonstrates bad behaviour, try to stay calm and avoid shouting or smacking. Help them think about the consequences of their behaviour and what lesson they have learned. The way you handle situations will teach them how to handle similar situations in the future.
CAN YOUR CHILD’S FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS AFFECT THEIR HEALTH?
The ability to form secure relationships (social development) and the ability to regulate and express emotions (emotional development) are vital to the health and well-being of your child. Good social-emotional development also has an impact on academic success later in life. Young children who develop strong relationships with parents, family, carers and teachers learn how to pay attention, cooperate and get along with others. They are also confident in their ability to explore and learn from the world around them.
Managing feelings and emotions
As children learn and grow, their social and emotional lives become more complex. They go through a process of learning what feelings and emotions are, understanding how and why they happen, recognising these feelings in themselves and others, and developing effective ways to manage them.
There are a number of things that influence how your child expresses their emotions, such as the behaviours they learn from you and other members of their family, or those they’ve witnessed in other children. Making your child feel safe and supported is vital for strong social-emotional development in these early years.
The better you are at helping your child manage their emotions, the better they will be able to handle these emotions and get along with others in the future.
Supporting healthy development
Factors like age, personality, life experiences, temperament and cultural background can all affect the social-emotional development of your child. While you shouldn’t push your child to demonstrate behaviours if they aren’t ready, there are plenty of ways you can support a healthy level of social and emotional development.
- Show your child you love them by hugging, kissing and spending time with them throughout the day.
- Help your child feel good about themselves by praising their accomplishments and encouraging them to try new things.
- Show your feelings and explain to your child why you are feeling happy or sad, so they learn to recognise and name these emotions.
- Give your child an opportunity to socialise with other children their own age, as well as form good relationships with other adults and children.
- Make sure your child gets enough exercise, a healthy diet and plenty of rest so their body can properly regulate their hormones.
- Listen to your child when they express emotions and talk about how they are feeling and why. If they are upset, hold them and talk softly and calmly.
- Help your child express their emotions in positive ways, such as drawing, playing with toys or writing a story.
- Be a good role model by talking about your mistakes, saying sorry and demonstrating kind and generous behaviours in front of your child.
- Keep play dates short when your child is young, then gradually increase the length of time they play as they get older and develop their social skills.