|The Influence of Love and Communication|
|Quality Child Care|
|Children at Risk|
The first three years of a child’s life are the prime time for parents and caregivers to provide positive experiences that will affect the rest of the child’s life. Children will develop faster during these early years than at any other time in their lives.
Although individual children develop at their own pace, healthy early childhood development occurs in a sequence of growth and change in the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social areas. It is important for parents and caregivers to understand what children need at each stage of their early lives to promote progress to the next level.
It has long been known that babies who do not get enough love and attention are less likely to become well-adjusted adults. Recent discoveries on how children’s brains are wired help to explain this occurrence. At birth, newborns’ brains have all the cells they’ll need for a lifetime, but the network connections needed for development do not begin until the first few days of life. The connections determine how a child thinks, feels, and behaves.
Scientists have discovered that early experiences actually build and shape these connections. Therefore, how a child is raised strongly influences their emotional, social, behavioral, physical—and even intellectual—capabilities.
Starting from birth, babies develop quickly in all development areas when they have nurturing caregivers and opportunities to explore their world. Each month brings new skills. At just two months of age, babies may roll from their stomach to their back. By four months, they may stand with support and enjoy games, such as peek-a-boo. And by nine months, they may babble and say simple words.
When parents know what to expect at each stage of their child’s development, they can encourage progress by helping young children to be physically active and learn new motor skills, to develop a varied vocabulary, to play well with other children and learn new social skills, and to develop intellectually. In these early years, children learn primarily through play and interaction with others.
It is common sense that parental love and nurturing help babies form strong attachments for optimal development. Babies who are neglected or who receive inadequate, mechanical, or inconsistent care experience stress, which can have an adverse affect on the brain’s biochemistry, potentially resulting in developmental delays.
To foster your child’s development in many areas, child development experts recommend responding consistently to your baby’s cries and showing continuing love and affection.
Also, promote language and social development and build a stronger bond by talking to your baby throughout the day in a pleasant tone and reading aloud, starting at an early age. Children who are exposed to language such as frequent reading, talking, and singing have more developed brains than other children. Avoid using baby talk, however, and pronouncing words incorrectly, such as using “baba” for bottle.
Babies and toddlers should not be confined to a crib or playpen because they need opportunities to move, and they need sounds and images. Remember that every experience helps to build the brain connections that guide development.
Parents want the best for their children, so it is critical not to underestimate the importance of quality care during the first three years of life. In fact, your child’s future depends on it.
More than half of parents of 1-year-olds in the United States share their caregiving tasks with child care providers who play an important role in nurturing child development. Although mothers often feel guilty for leaving their infant in the care of others during the day, extensive research shows that quality child care does not adversely affect child development or the close bond with parents. However, quality is the key issue. High quality care is related to better cognitive performance, higher language ability, higher level of school readiness, and fewer behavioral problems in day care.
According to the National Child Care Information Center, the following are indicators of good quality child care.
- Smaller groups of children and a smaller adult-to-child ratio. (No more than one adult to three infants or one adult to four children aged 18 months to three years)
- Continuity of care: children cannot form close, trusting relationships with caregivers who come and go every six months
- A clean, healthy, and safe environment
- Responsive caregiving
- Qualified staff: caregivers with degrees or special training are better prepared to provide adequate care and help your child grow
- Child care resources and referral organizations help locate child care providers in their area. Call 1-800-424-2246 for a child care provider referral.
- Accreditation: Find out if child care providers are accredited or have been accredited by a national organization. Select providers that have met the voluntary national child care standards that are more stringent than most state licensing requirements. Contact the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Association for Family Child Care for information on these standards.
Services are available for young children of low-income families who may need assistance in fostering healthy growth through the early development stages. Research shows that poverty is linked with slowed cognitive and behavioral development. Without interventions, many children in low-income families may not be ready to start kindergarten at age 5 and may lag behind other children in developmental milestones.
The Head Start program, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), is provided in most communities for children from birth to age five through child care and at-home services for children and parents in low-income families.
Services provided through Head Start include child care and educational programs, and medical, dental, and mental health care for children. Families may receive referrals, family needs assessments, parenting education and training, and crisis intervention. Head Start social workers provide individualized services for each child and family, based on their needs.
Head Start interventions are particularly beneficial because they work with the child and parent together. According to DHHS research, mothers in a 1996-2001 intervention study were more emotionally responsive to their children and showed more warmth and affection than mothers who did not receive the Head Start parent education training.
Studies showed that by the time the children in Head Start programs were age two, they had larger vocabularies, higher sustained attention to toys or other objects, and lower levels of aggressive behavior than children not in the program. Interventions, such as the Head Start program, are more effective when they are provided in the first two to three years of a child’s life than when provided later in life to correct developmental delays or problem behaviors.
Most parents will readily admit that parenting young children is one tough job. From the “terrible two’s” to potty training, and from temper tantrums to eating and sleeping problems, behavioral issues are a fact of everyday life. Parents who are having difficulties with their children or who suspect their child has developmental delays can find help in their community. Social workers help parents locate needed services from local agencies, medical centers, schools, and organizations; provide parenting programs; and offer family counseling. Sometimes a little assistance from others can make the early childhood years more satisfying for parents and benefit infants, toddlers, and preschoolers during their prime learning years.