Early Childhood Development
The first six years of a child's life are extremely important to their development. Studies indicate that children who are nurtured and given positive attention during the early years are less likely to develop learning, behavioural, emotional, and health problems.
Facts and Stats
- There is powerful new evidence from neuroscience that the early years of development from conception to age six, particularly for the first three years, set the base for competence and coping skills that affect learning, behaviour and health throughout life.
- There is also increasing evidence that many of the risks for health problems later in life (e.g., high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, some mental health problems) are set by the conditions of early life from conception to age five.
- Supportive initiatives for parents should begin as early as possible – from the time of conception – with programs targeting parent support and education.
- Alberta’s children will have a healthier future if they have a healthier beginning.
- There are nearly 270,000 children in Alberta of age six years and under.
- The world wide incidence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is estimated at one to three cases per 1,000 births at a lifetime cost of $1.5 million for supports and services for each child.
- At some point in their lives, 10 to 20 per cent of children face at-risk circumstances such as parental low income, low education, poor health, social isolation, and lack of supportive networks, and may need help to overcome these.
- Two powerful forces are at work in the development of a child. Both interact with one another and influence the growth and well-being of a child right through to adulthood:
- Nature, or the genetic programming that a child brings into the world;
- Nurture, or the experiences each child has from conception through life.
Tips for Parents
From the time of conception, you as a parent are responsible for what your child experiences in his/her early years. Positive experiences help make children physically strong and emotionally resilient as they grow into adulthood. The impact of the first six years lasts a lifetime and provides the sure foundation every child needs for a strong and healthy start.
Did you know:
- Brain development continues after birth.
- Babies are learning from the moment they are born.
- Babies need stimulation for their brains and feelings to develop.
- What a baby learns from his environment affects the number of brain cells and the way they are "wired". This "wiring" sets the foundation for future brain growth and development.
- To organize itself and form strong connections, the brain needs positive and repeated stimulation.
- Talking to your baby stimulates brain development.
- The development of a young child's brain affects physical and mental health, capacity to learn, and behaviour throughout life.
- Babies learn basic emotions through interaction with caregivers.
- Parents' emotional closeness with their baby can strongly influence that child's intellectual development.
- Your baby will develop a base with you for love and trust. This base sets the stage for future emotional development and for loving, trusting relationships for the rest of the child's life.
- Bonding, or attaching to caregivers, is essential to a baby's future self-esteem and confidence.
- Listen to your baby and watch for signals. She will let you know what she is feeling and what she wants. You cannot spoil a baby with "too much" love.
"Love cures people both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it." ~ Dr. Karl Menniger
- Newborns use their five senses to stay close to their caregivers.
- All babies cry to communicate to you that something is wrong. It is essential to respond to crying right away. Learning to handle a crying baby calmly minimizes distress in the caregiver and the infant.
- Your child will learn in his own unique way match your approach to his particular learning style.
- Toddlers are natural learners because their curiosity is so intense. Exploration in a safe and closely supervised environment is their best teacher.
- Don't push your toddler to learn more than he's ready to learn let him set the pace.
- Playing is "hard work" for your toddler try to watch for sensory overload.
"If you treat an individual as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be." ~ Goethe
- Reasonable limits help children feel secure in their world. Children of all ages need limits.
- Self-esteem is a hallmark of good mental health.
- Parent's discipline methods should support the development of their children's healthy self-esteem. A loving relationship is the foundation of effective discipline
- If you make a mistake and mistreat your child by saying something unkind, apologize and make a new start.
- You don't have to "motivate" your child - with your support and encouragement, your child will do what he needs to do when he is ready.
- Development is a process, not a race.
Spiritual vision gives children a buffer against life's darker moments, a sense of a firm place to stand. To achieve such spiritual vision, children need opportunities to experience art, nature, science and human connections. To deprive children of the opportunity to nurture their innate spirituality is to diminish their lives." ~ Our Promise to Children, Fraser Mustard
- Respect your parenting partner's strengths and allow for different perspectives on a situation
- A "hands-on" dad, in the first few months, will be a more effective parent over the long-term.
- Grandparents can enrich your baby's life and give you the support you need.
- You can strengthen your parent-child relationship by:
- Showing plenty of affection
- Setting aside time alone with each of your children
- Respecting one another's feelings
- Keeping promises
- Having fun together
- Providing a child-friendly environment
*Some content from Alberta Human Services.