By Adrian Sparrow
The first few years of a child’s life are vital for lifelong growth and development. Children vary in how they respond to their environments. Some kids are outgoing and adaptable, while other kids need extra care and nurturing. Every positive and negative experience adds up and can create effects not only for immediate development, but also for physical and mental health that can reach well into adulthood. How does a parent foster positive growth and help their children to thrive? There are several major factors that are important for parents to consider in the effort of giving kids the building blocks they need to grow up healthy and happy.
Kids need a stable, warm, and loving environment to feel secure and safe. Healthy growth occurs when basic needs are provided alongside a safe and loving relationship, where the child can learn to cope with stress and regulate their emotions.
Even though most kids don’t start speaking until 1-2 years, language development begins in infancy with coos and babbling, and forms of nonverbal communication including simple gestures. Children learn by example, and when they are developing verbal communication it’s important to both listen to and engage in conversations where questions can be asked and answered.
Ample rest is important for all of us, but especially children. Infants and children need a minimum of 9-12 hours of sleep, depending on their age, to promote physical, emotional, and mental health.
Cognition, creativity and emotional regulation are all built up during periods of exploration and experimentation. Playtime is predominantly important for kids to practice social skills, planning and decision making, and self-discipline, from both playing alone and with others. Unstructured playtime also gives kids the opportunity to flex their imagination muscles and learn how to entertain themselves.
The amount of physical activity a child needs largely depends on their age, but particularly preschool-age children should be active throughout the day to promote blood flow to the brain and body. Aerobic activity: walking, running, or swimming; muscle and bone-strengthening activities: climbing, running, and jumping; should be at the core of children’s physical exercise.
Food is fuel for our bodies, and a child’s diet is an important factor in brain development and cognition. Young children need a diet with plenty of fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals: eggs, nuts, oatmeal, and greek yogurt are just a few ideas for healthy snacks that will keep them energized and growing strong.
Executive functioning includes cognitive skills like analyzing tasks, breaking them down into smaller steps and the working memory needed to keep details in mind and complete goals. Executive functioning skills also include organization, time management and impacts how well a child performs at school.