The world of child development studies seems never-ending to me; there's sooo much to learn about how the brains and personalities of our babies develop, how we can be better parents, how we can enrich their lives, and so forth. Sometimes it can be hard for parents to know where in this sea of information to start. I long for the day Child Development and Child Psychology 101 are required learning in middle school and high school. Can you imagine how different this world will be when it's widespread knowledge how to raise healthier and happier people? For now, here are a few of the basics of a brighter beginning as I know them. These are three key principles that all parents and teachers and ...well... everyone should know.
1. There are different parenting styles and it's important to understand them.
Authoritarian: Hindering, and sometimes detrimental, to a child's development, authoritarian parenting demands that the child obey them at all times, whether or not they understand why; it's low on attentiveness and interaction with the child, low in communicating and showing feelings, and children are expected to be seen and not heard unless spoken to. This method is parent-centered and punishment oriented.
Authoritative: The healthiest form of parenting, it provides a well-rounded balance between caring warmly for the child's thoughts, feelings, and input, and providing quality guidance and discipline for the child's behavior. Children thrive on this method thanks to the attentiveness and healthy structure these parents provide. Children are heard, included, respected, and encouraged; children are given a healthy set of boundaries and standards to live by; children develop a strong, positive sense of self.
Permissive: This method is child-centered and (can be) warm, but is too lenient, giving the child too much power and free reign in the family. The parent acquiesces to the whims and demands of the child, doesn't provide enough structure, consistency, and boundary-setting, and teaches the child s/he doesn't have to earn the things s/he wants. When a child feels in charge without better guidance from her parents, it's confusing and unsettling.
Neglectful / Uninvolved: Here, the parent has taken permissive parenting to the next level. This method of parenting is cold, aloof, disinterested, distant or absent, self-absorbed, and/or rejecting. The child is left on their own without much guidance, supervision, discipline, input, or care from the parent. This style is detrimental to the well-being of young people.
2. Children have different temperaments and it's important to understand them.
According to Infants, Toddlers, and Caregivers: A Curriculum of Respectful, Responsive, Relationship-Based Care and Education, "Temperament is an individual's behavioral style and unique way of responding to the world. It involves a set of personality characteristics that are influenced by nature (genetics) and by nurture (interactions). These unique patterns of emotional and motor reactions begin with numerous genetic instructions that guide brain development and then are affected by the prenatal and postnatal environment. As an individual infant continues to develop, the specific experiences she has and the social context of her life influence the nature and expression of her temperament (p.216)." The temperament of a child is classified as slow-to-warm, easy going, or feisty.
Slow-to-warm children are more shy or reserved with new people, might become afraid and sad easily, are less interested in new experiences, and often seek adult guidance, support, and protection from trusted caregivers. These young ones need a safety zone, patience in assisting with social adaptation, and to experience positive interactions regularly.
Easy going children get along with others easily, are happy and friendly in demeanor, typically having positive and stable emotions and interactions with others, are reliable, and are comfortable letting feisty children take over (something to watch out for; these children might need help asserting their boundaries). These young ones adjust to new experiences and people pretty easily.
Feisty children want to lead, can be quick to anger, or easily irritated in general, can overpower other people's boundaries in an attempt to feel their own needs met (grabbing a toy from another child, screaming for food, hitting for a blanket, fighting often), and are otherwise intense and unpredictable in nature. These young ones need a lot of physical activity, concrete language, clear choices, fortifying of others' boundaries, and support in developing empathy for others.
3. Children grow through different phases of development and it's important that they have age-appropriate experiences that support their stage of development, their self-esteem (self-love and self-worth), their trust in themselves and their caregivers, their level of empathy, and a positive worldview.
Age-appropriate activities for infants include exploring and moving their bodies in a hazard-free space, listening to music, people singing, and other soft sounds, being read to, rolling balls, manipulating safe toys with their hands, and socializing with caring people. Activities for toddlers include sensory projects (play-doh, shaving cream, rice and bean tables, water play, etc.), experimenting with musical instruments, songs, and rhythms, a lot of free time to explore artistically (painting with different types of paints, papers, brushes, sponges, etc.; using chalk, pastels, markers, etc.), dramatic play in which the adult sets up a themed area with resources (think restaurant with play food and menus, gas station with homemade box cars, animal wildlife safari, and more), block play, learning to recognize letters, numbers, colors, shapes, and a lot of reading. Activities for preschoolers include learning to cut and paste, learning to weave and bead, learning to write those ABCs and numbers, learning about cause and effect through simple science projects, and the same dramatic play, musical play, art time, and reading. Many more ideas can be found with a simple Google search.
I've written an article on the importance of quality experiences and interactions in the first four years of life called Early Childhood Shapes Us for Life. It addresses the impact we have (or fail to have) on the neural development of our children in those early years and how that shapes the rest of their lives. To summarize, children are developing neural pathways in the brain at an incredibly fast rate, in the first four years of life, depending on the experiences they have or don't have; it's really easy to neglect a child's needs and stunt their development, or instead, encourage development with attentiveness, warm and positive interactions, and abundant opportunities for playing, exploring, and learning.
Check out these age-appropriate chores that help children learn pride in contributing and the value of being trusted, included, and capable.