If you worry whether the way you nurture and guide your children during their early years will positively impact learning, behavior and health in later life you're not alone. It is a common concern for parents everywhere, and with good reason.
Studies on parental involvement have always had a long and rich history. Diana Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist from the University of California has been a pioneer in this area. Her research has shown that the optimal parent is one that is involved and responsive, who sets high expectations but respects her child's autonomy.1These types of parents tend to raise children who perform better in school, in social situations and are also more psychologically sound.
In a child's first few years of life, approximately 700 new neural connections are created each second. These connections build the brain's architecture and are formed through a combination of genes, the environment and experiences a baby goes through. Developmental researchers also suggest that sensitive and responsive interactions with caregivers, known as Contingent Reciprocity, aid in building and strengthening neural connections in a child's brain.This is why establishing impactful ways of child rearing from the very beginning is easier and a great deal more effective than attempting to fix things later on.
Barriers to children's education begin in their early years and have been shown to cause further disruption if left unattended. For example, disparities in vocabulary can appear as early as 18 months old, and is highly influenced by the education and income of the household raised in. At age 3, those with parents or caregivers with higher education backgrounds had vocabularies 2 or 3 times wider than those with parents who had not finished high school.
While it is difficult to establish whether the effects of early sensitive caregiving last into later development, there have been numerous studies that have shown a strong link between caregiving in the first three years of a baby's life and social competence and academic achievements in adolescence and adulthood. Sensitive caregiving is characterized as a parent responding appropriately and promptly to a child's signals, positive interactions and providing a stable base for the child's exploration of the environment. A study by researchers from a number of American Universities, which appears in the journal Child Development, found that the quality of children's early caregiving experiences has an enduring and ongoing role in promoting successful social and academic development into the years of maturity".
Encouragement to recognise and nurture talent is another area that can be addressed early on. As László Polgár told the Washington Post in 1992: "A genius is not born but is educated and trained. When a child is born healthy, it is a potential genius." From piano lessons in nursery to Mozart in the womb, parents are always looking for ways to condition their children to be the kind of smart todays societyequates with success. Intelligence is 49% genetics and 51% stimulation according to Lawlis, Ph.D., American Mensa's supervisory psychologist and author ofThe IQ Answer.Other developmental experts also agree that it is environment that has the edge on intellect.
Parents are the world's greatest detectives when it comes to their children. This becomes particularly useful when discovering a child's special talents. These should then be encouraged and nurtured by providing varied experiences and opportunities, from birth right up to adolescence.There are a number of things you can do at home to achieve this:
- Success is possible: Children should know this from the offset, with a view that performing well in school and other activities gets them that much closer to it
- Exposure to learning: Plan trips to museums, bookstores, exhibitions; anywhere that promotes a learning environment.
- Encourage conversation: Talk about current events or ask your child what was challenging about their day. For younger children, even spending a little time reading together each day will engage them.
With 16-24 year olds now three times as likely to be jobless in the UK, the youth unemployment rate is the worst it has been in 20 years. It is even more important to ensure we provide youth the support they need from the beginning, helping them to create a brighter future for themselves.