Moments That Matter

From birth, children are learning fundamental social and emotional skills — and many others — through experience. The earliest experiences are especially important, because between birth and age 3 the brain is developing faster than at any other time in life.

That means early experiences can have long-term consequences. Without warm and positive interactions that provide safety and security and support learning and exploration, a child is unlikely to reach his potential.

Moments Matter: Your child's early experiences with you last a lifetime! Tweet this!

Early interactions matter.

During early childhood, children’s interactions have a huge impact on their well-being. The quality of everyday exchanges between parents and children has been clearly and consistently linked to child developmental outcomes.

Positive interactions with parents and caregivers are essential for a child to grow, learn and explore. Harsh or intrusive parenting can have detrimental effects on a child’s intellectual, social and emotional development.

Emotionally supportive parenting during infancy and early childhood is associated with better social skills, more self-control, and better relations with peers and teachers. Similarly, supportiveness during the toddler period can have long-lasting effects on children’s persistence and willingness to try challenging activities.

What kinds of interactions are best?

But findings like these aren’t very helpful when it comes to making specific decisions.

For those with children, parenting is not an abstract idea, but a very real job that challenges them each day. Parents are responsible for keeping their children safe, healthy, clothed, fed and sheltered. Parents also arrange many of children’s early experiences. They set routines, create learning experiences, select developmentally appropriate toys, and arrange playtime with other children.

This month, we focus on more concrete and practical information. What are some of the specific steps parents can take to promote positive outcomes? We hope you’ll find these ideas useful as you make the most of your time with your children.

We’ve talked about the importance of positive interactions for attachment, social and emotional adjustment and school readiness. But what makes an interaction positive? In general, positive interactions occur

  • when parents tailor their interactions so that they are consistent with their child's developmental level
  • when parents are aware of and understand the cues their children display
  • when parents respond to their child in a timely and predictable fashion
  • when the content of the interaction is relevant and appropriate to the child’s interests

Teaching and discipline are also important areas of parent-child interactions.

Other aspects of positive interactions have been identified in the research on effective parenting. These include sensitivity/responsiveness and “scaffolding.”

Sensitivity and responsiveness are important aspects of positive parenting at every stage, but especially in infancy. Responding to your baby’s cues promptly and patiently shows him that his signals are understood, and that they can have an effect on what happens next. This promotes emotional well-being as well as cognitive development.

Scaffolding refers to the ways parents can support and enhance child learning by gradually guiding their child's skilled actions beyond her current level of ability. Scaffolding ensures that your child has opportunities to try things that are just difficult enough to present a challenge but are still appropriate goals for this stage of development.

Another day-to-day area of parenting is discipline. Parent-child conflict tends to become a regular occurrence during the toddler years, and the way that parents handle these conflicts teaches their children how to deal with later emotional and social conflicts.

Throughout August, we’ll be getting specific about all of these topics, as well as others including shared book reading, feeding, and play.