How a loving family can give young children the tools to succeed in adult life

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What goes on at home shapes a young child’s future (Bruno Nascimento)

Child nutrition (Early years), Childcare, Early childhood development, ​Learning through play (Early years), Safe pregnancy and birth

A positive start in a nurturing environment can give children the abilities they need to deal with life when they grow up, say experts.

What goes on at home shapes a young child’s future.

Strong and loving family relationships are vital if a child is to reach their full potential – both in the developed and developing worlds.

While poverty, deprivation and neglect put young children at severe risk of not “growing up” properly, research has shown that positive family relationships help young children cope with all kinds of stress.

And if a child has suffered in their early years, the impact can be reversed if they receive the right care and love. But early intervention is the key.

The Suomen Akatemia (Academy of Finland) published a study last month that included looking at the effect early family relationships have on children’s emotional development.

More than 700 families took part in the seven-year project conducted during pregnancy, at the age of one and two and then in middle childhood.

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Good bonds help children cope with all kinds of stress (Madie Robson)

The report said the findings “shed more light on the understanding of early family dynamics and on the identification of early family-related risks”. It said the knowledge could help to develop focused therapeutic interventions for children who have experienced early family problems and suffer from depressive symptoms.

Separate research by Harvard University found that children develop well in an environment of relationships that begin in the home and include extended family members, early care and education providers, and members of the community.

In a briefing on the impact of early childhood development, Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child said: “Studies also show that toddlers who have secure, trusting relationships with parents at home (or non-parent caregivers) cope better with stress. 

“They experience minimal stress hormone activation when frightened by a strange event, and those who have insecure relationships experience a significant activation of the stress response system.”

Numerous scientific studies support these conclusions, which means that caregivers who provide supportive relationships can prevent or reverse the damaging effects of stress.

So a good start in a loving family environment gives people the correct tools to deal with life as an adult. It’s as simple as that.

There is no more important time than the years between birth and age five.

Theirworld’s #5for5 campaign has been highlighting the need for investment in early childhood development.

90% of brain development happens before the age of five. So all children must have access to quality care including nutrition, health, learning, play and protection. That includes being in a nurturing environment.

Clinical psychologist and author of The Supermum Myth Dr Rachel Andrew said: “Family relationships are crucial to the social, cognitive, linguistic and emotional development of children.

“There is a growing body of research now showing that especially between ages from zero to two, the relationships that a child has with their main caregivers’ family during these years go on to shape the way they develop in all areas.”

Parents who show their children positivity by playing with them, feeding them, giving them attention and soothing them are helping their children’s development.

Dr Andrews continued: “It is through these first positive actions and relationships that children learn that others love them, and that they, in turn, are lovable. That others are caring and safe, and that they are worthy of receiving care. 

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Strong and loving family relationships are vital (David Straight)

“These are fundamental to development, as they help build the safe, secure base that children use to go on to explore the world.”

Children brought up in this environment can cope well with small amounts of stress but it’s a completely different story when negativity is prevalent at home.

“Most children are resilient to withstand a small amount of negativity, if the secure base with their family is in place,” said Dr Andrew.

“However, if it isn’t, other negativity from others or the world will impact on them more.

“In addition, if a child is surrounded by negativity from caregivers in early life – through parental neglect or indifference or physical, sexual or emotional abuse this can have a devastating consequence on development. 

“For some children, if this has happened between ages zero to five, the damage will be irreparable.”

As adults we bring our own stuff to parenthood - our imaginings of what it would be like, our hopes and dreams for our children, our own life experience - including the way we were parented. Dr Rachel Andrew, clinical psychologist and author

So what can parents do to improve the outcome for all under-fives?

“Parents need to know that children need “good enough” care – an adult who will meet their basic needs, and want to (in time) learn and become attuned to their child and their needs,” explains Dr Andrew.

“This involves learning what their child’s individual cries/moods/behaviours mean, and almost doing a little “baby-dance” with them, that is responsive to these.

“It sounds simple but in reality any parent knows this actually requires a high skill set – of patience, determination, energy, and self-reflection.

“There is no golden handbook on how to get good outcomes. But developing a solid foundation for your child, based on meeting their basic needs plus showing them love and care through hugs and cuddles and praise.”

But we’re human – and can’t always get it right.

“As adults we bring our own stuff to parenthood – our imaginings of what it would be like, our hopes and dreams for our children, our own life experience – including the way we were parented,” said Dr Andrew.

“Add to this our individual fertility and birth experiences, our support systems during parenthood and other life events too. 

“There are lots of things that can inadvertently affect the way we parent and the way we are with our children. Life is busy and we often don’t take time out to reflect on what we are doing and why. 

“Even when we do, we may feel powerless to change things, even if we think they are unhelpful. 

“Most parents do not intentionally want to cause their children hurt and upset. It can be a complex set of circumstances that can cause and sustain negativity within family relationships.”

But if a child experiences more positivity than negativity, the outlook is good. A timely reminder for all parents.

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