Dr J (Lieb) Liebenberg
The early years of a child's life are incredibly important, and parents play a critical role in nurturing their children during this time. During these formative years, children go through many important milestones that are critical to their future development. These milestones should serve as guideposts for parents, helping them to track their child's progress and identify areas where their child may need additional support, but there is a caveat: Milestones should not be seen as fixed or absolute because every child is unique and early childhood development is not necessarily linear. Having said that, why are milestones important and how should parents be involved in helping their children reach them?
The Importance of Milestones
Milestones are significant markers of a child's development that can indicate whether they are on track and developing as they should be. They typically include physical, cognitive, and social-emotional milestones, such as rolling over, crawling, walking, talking, and forming friendships. Milestones provide parents with a broad roadmap for what their children should be doing at each stage of their development. They enable parents to monitor their child's progress and identify any areas where they may need extra help.
Research has shown that children who meet their developmental milestones are more likely to succeed in school and in life. For example, children who develop appropriate language skills during their preschool years are more likely to do well in school and have better relationships with their peers. Similarly, children who master their gross motor skills and fine motor skills timeously will be better equipped to learn how to write. However, the opposite is also true- trying to teach preschool children to write when they have not yet mastered the required fine motor skills will do more harm than good.
The Role of Parents in Nurturing Children During the Early Years
Parents play a crucial role in nurturing their child's development during the early years. They are their child's first and most important teachers, and their interactions with their child have a significant impact on their child's brain development. Parents who are responsive and engaged in their child's life help to create a secure and nurturing environment that supports their child's growth.
Research has shown that children who receive consistent, responsive care in the early years have better cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes than those who do not. They are more likely to be successful in school and have better relationships with their peers. Conversely, children who experience neglect or abuse in the early years are at increased risk for a range of negative outcomes, including developmental delays, behavioural problems, and mental health issues.
Some of the most important things parents can do to support their child's development during the early years include:
Building Strong Relationships: Children must feel loved, valued, and supported. By building strong relationships with their child, parents can create a secure and nurturing environment that supports their child's development.
Encouraging Exploration and Play: Play is essential for children's development. It helps them to develop cognitive, social, and emotional skills, as well as physical skills such as coordination and balance.
Creating a Structured Environment: Children thrive on routine and structure. By creating a structured environment that includes regular mealtimes, bedtime routines, and consistent expectations, parents can help their child feel safe and secure.
Providing Opportunities for Learning: Children are natural learners, and parents can support their child's development by providing opportunities for learning through play, books, and exploration. One of the best opportunities for learning is through regular reading from a very young age. There is simply no better way to ensure that by the time children start school, they already have a sound vocabulary which will enable them to master the wonderful world of reading and writing.
Being a Good Role Model: Parents are their child's first and most important role models. By modelling positive behaviours and attitudes, parents can help their children develop a sense of self-worth and the skills they need to succeed.
As we can see, although parents play a critical role in the development of their children, especially during the formative years, it does not mean they have to be education specialists. By providing a safe and secure environment at home where children can learn and explore will enable them to grow and thrive. Combining this with the input from a good preschool with a sound curriculum will ensure that they reach their milestones timeously. In such a partnership any problems will also be identified timeously and addressed with the assistance of specialists such as occupational or speech therapists.