In recent years, researchers have learned a lot more about how early experiences shape children. Here are 8 great things to know and remember when it comes to early child development.
1. Stress can harm children’s brains and bodies.
When they are in utero and throughout early childhood, stressful family and caregiving circumstances can damage children’s organ systems, impair future learning capacity, and lead to poor physical and mental health outcomes.
2. Development is nurtured.
Children inherit genes for skills such as controlling impulses and retaining information, but if and how such genes are activated depends on the environment in which they grow.
3. A village is better.
Nurturing parents are primary, but children also benefit from strong relationships with other caring adults. Having multiple reliable, loving caregivers is best.
4. Brains keep growing.
While we know that a lot of children’s brain architecture is shaped in the first three years of life, brain development continues through adolescence and into early adulthood.
5. Severe neglect is as or more harmful than abuse.
Sadly, young children who suffer prolonged neglect have worse cognitive impairments, behavior problems, and social deficits than children who are physically abused.
6. Children exposed to adversity or violence can be helped.
Children who suffer difficult experiences are more at risk for stress-related disorders and aggression. But the good news is that timely, ongoing care from reliable, nurturing adults can counteract early adversity.
7. Removing children from a dangerous environment isn’t enough.
Children in dangerous or neglectful circumstances should be removed immediately, but these traumatized children then also need special care to restore their sense of safety and help them recover.
8. Resilience is about “we.”
All of us grow to adapt and thrive despite adversity when we have the caring support and mentoring of those around us. Resilience is not about self-reliance—it’s about mutual reliance.
Adapted from Harvard University Center on the Developing Child