Healthy Relationships Key to Healthy Brain Development

One way that adults – even those who are not parents – can make a sound investment in the future of Memphis and Shelby County is by maintaining healthy relationships with our youngest residents.

Over nine months ago, I began writing this column to share information on best practices to promote optimal brain development in young children, and soon found myself immersed in the sea of information that exists on the topic.

Through my work and involvement with The Urban Child Institute, I have learned that during the first three years of a child's life, family, home environment, and interactions with adults are the major factors in shaping the mental foundation for learning.

Making the most of children's early upbringing has the potential to improve education and health and decrease poverty and unemployment – issues that are of great interest to me as someone who is concerned about the future of our community and our country.

Although, it may come as a surprise to know that I am not a parent of a young child.

In fact, I do not have any children at all, and at the moment my plans to take on the immense responsibility of parenthood are non-existent. I am, however, an aunt to eight nieces and nephews. And as I expect most parents feel, I will do anything within my power to protect their future well-being and to keep them happy and healthy.

Coupled with the fact that many of my friends and associates are parents, my interactions with children are not few and far between. So for me, it's important to know that whenever I come into contact with a child I am prepared to make the time that we share both positive and meaningful.

Any adult person who interacts, communicates or spends time with a child - particularly during the first three years of life – shares this responsibility.

"A Parents’ Guide to Kindergarten Readiness," recently published by The Urban Child Institute, is a reference guide for parents and adults that offers expert recommendations on how to ensure that a child is showing signs of healthy development. It outlines the most important steps to take to make a lasting impact during the most impressionable years of life.

The Urban Child Institute believes that investing in early childhood development is key to addressing our city's most pressing challenges, and through extensive research, the child advocacy organization has found that a community's future well-being depends on the health of its children.

One way that adults – even those who are not parents – can make a sound investment in the future of Memphis and Shelby County is by maintaining healthy relationships with our youngest residents. The children of today will become the future leaders of tomorrow. Ensuring that children get the attention, love, and support that they need will lead to huge returns for everyone in our community.

Healthy relationships encourage healthy brain development. From conception to age three, babies' brains are forming connections that are the foundation of later abilities. A child's early environment influences how the brain receives, retains and processes information. In essence, what goes in (experiences, activities) will ultimately determine what comes out (language and literacy, thinking skills, self-control and self-confidence).

Positive interactions with adults also help children develop a strong emotional foundation, and increase the likelihood that they will be adequately prepared to meet the challenges and overcome the adversities they may encounter later in life. Tension, conflict, and or violence, on the other hand, can have devastating affects on brain development. Negative experiences during the first three years of life are often cited as the root cause for learning disabilities and behavioral problems that often persist throughout childhood and adulthood.

Because parents spend the most time with their children, they are ultimately responsible for creating positive experiences that will influence how well a child is prepared to adjust and adapt in society. But while parents undoubtedly play an integral role, they should not be the only ones who take part in accomplishing this immense task. Aunts, uncles, siblings, family friends, and caregivers can all be a second line of defense to protect the future well-being of young children. They can do this by maintaining healthy relationships and offering positive reinforcement as children develop the skills needed to succeed and thrive.

Tarrin McGhee is the owner of Pique Creative.

This article was originally published by the Tri-State Defender, and is available online at: