Keep the following in mind for healthy and holistic early childhood development. While this list may strike you as being full of common sense, it is often these basics that get forgotten in today’s busy and demanding world where parents are constantly on the work-life merry-go-round.
Freedom to explore, to move, to play
As more families live in smaller spaces around the world, it is imperative that they make a point of getting their children outdoors and away from constantly sitting in front of a screen. Movement wires the brain for all learning – the more movement the better. The quality fine motor movements (small muscles of the body including the hands, fingers and eyes) are dependent on the quality of gross motor movements (large muscles of the body such as neck, back, buttocks, legs and arms). Encourage running, jumping, cartwheels, somersaults, climbing, spinning and sliding to stimulate all body parts and the senses. Children thrive in large, open spaces. Small spaces frustrate them. They need a good balance of both.
Play in all its forms is the language of childhood – never forget it. Encourage exploration of their world. Curiosity is the foundation of imagination, creativity and discovery. It is what stimulates a child’s love of learning.
How a healthy diet impacts childhood development
Much of what is advertised to children on TV is not for healthy foods such as broccoli and fresh fruit, it is mostly for snacks and convenient foodstuffs laden with sugar, salt, colourants, flavourants and high trans-fat snacks in attention-grabbing packaging. If children are to appreciate good food and eat a healthy diet, they need to be taught and encouraged to do so, at home.
Routine and boundaries
Children thrive on routine, knowing what happens now and what happens next. Routine and boundaries keep children safe, make them feel secure and keep busy families sane.
Imagination & creativity
Be there to listen to your child’s thoughts and ideas. Give them space and time to engage their imagination and creativity. Provide them with materials, toys and games to be creative such as: building blocks, playdough, paint, crayons, paper, scissors, hammers, nails and wood, glue, items of waste, story books, train sets, dolls and so much more.
It so easy to allow children to veg in front of a screen from a TV to a cellphone, tablet or computer but always remember that real experiences trump everything. Children are in the concrete learning phase from birth to age 12. When they experience the world in real ways they can make sense of it through their body and senses and in this way they create understanding and meaning.
Communication & connection
Children, like all human beings, need to connect with others to experience their humanness, to discover more about themselves and life. Talking and listening are essential to parenting a child well. We talk our children clever in the preschool years and as they get older we need to listen twice as much as we speak, to enable them to express themselves, to master language and to explain the ideas that are in their heads. Connecting with your child deeply is a conscious choice busy parents need to make . They need to know that you get them, that you really hear them – not just the words but the spaces between their words. That you are really paying attention and that they are a priority for you.
The world is full of brands competing for your child’s attention – commercial brands and people. All want a share of your child’s heart, mind and your wallet. Every brand has a value proposition for your child. Bring your child up with a set of values against which they can judge other value offerings over time. It;s an important protective factor and will enable them to make the best choices they can in any given situation.
Safe and secure
Children need to feel safe and secure in order to be able to learn easily. When they are stressed, anxious or feel threatened, it affects the way their brain works and processes information and can make learning and remembering far more difficult. Get the basics of physical security right such as food, shelter, healthcare etc, and then work on your own personal baggage that you may be unwittingly passing on to them.
Parents and time
Parents must ensure they give their children time to develop. Childhood is a journey. School readiness, for example, takes from birth to the age of 6. Children must achieve various milestones but they all do so at slightly different rates. Emotional maturity also takes time. Keep your eye on other children’s development but also have patience and don’t rush them. Having said that, if they are falling very behind their peers you need to take it up with an experience professional who can advise whether or not the developmental delay is a problem that needs intervention. Early intervention works brilliantly because children’s brains are still so plastic and elastic.
On another note, understand that you can buy in care-giving but you can’t buy in parenting. They are two completely different things. The research shows us that what children long for is a real and authentic relationship with their parents. While many working parents need to buy in services to help the day-to-day management of their children, we are still the best toy in the box so to speak. Children need for us to pitch up for them, to pay attention, be able to trust us and to give them the gift of our time. Today you spell love T-I-M-E. When you spend time with your children, be focused, pay attention, stop multi-tasking and just be present, whether it is for ten minutes or an hour. Honour them with your presence and enjoy the moments you share. Tuck them in your heart forever.
Book a presentation of my talk Connecting with Children through the Noise & Clutter or Children Living in the Red Zone that touch on many of the issues discussed above.