We all want to give our children the best chance to have a happy and healthy life, to do well at school, and be successful when they’re adults. If you’re a new parent, you’ve probably received lots of advice and tips from friends and family members. It may even be overwhelming to hear all their different opinions! So, what are actually the most important things that give our little ones the chance to have the best possible outcome and reach their potential?
According to Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, research done in the last few years, and advances in the science of brain development point out three main principles.
1) Having responsive relationships
Being responsive to your little one’s cues (responding to her babbles, coos, facial expressions, etc.) will help her build strong brain connections and build a strong relationship that promotes the development of new social, emotional, and cognitive abilities. These will lead her to be socially competent and boost her reasoning skills. She’ll be more likely to enjoy learning experiences, understand complicated emotions, as well as be empathetic and self-confident. These set of skills will be useful for her throughout her lifetime.
Plus, having this nurturing and supportive relationship with you can also build the foundation for resilience during her childhood, which will be very valuable throughout her life since adults also need resilience to deal with stressful situations. In fact, children and adolescents who have been capable to deal with adversities have one thing in common: a stable and supportive relationship with a parent or caregiver. Why? Offering personalized responses to your daughter will create a cushion that protects her from developmental disruptions and teach her how to plan, adapt, and regulate her behavior, allowing her to react adaptively in the face of difficulties.
2) Reinforcing core life skills
Core life skills or executive functions are a set of capabilities that, as adults, we use to manage our relationships and daily tasks effectively. These include planning, self-control, flexibility, focus, etc. Helping your child strengthen her core skills is essential for her success, not only at school, but also at work later on and throughout her life. They allow us to achieve our goals, adapt to changes in our environment, prioritize, remember rules, and resist impulsive behaviors. They are essential for learning and developing, as they lead us to make healthy choices.
Because we are not born with these skills, you play an important role in teaching them to your little one and help her practice them. But hold on! She won’t be able to do all of this from one day to the next. You can help her by providing developmentally appropriate support, using the scaffolding method. This means that you will need to help her practice before she is ready to do it herself. How can you do this? Establish routines, model the behavior, and always maintain a supportive and stable relationship with her. During her first few years, she’ll acquire some basic skills, like focusing for a few minutes and following simple rules. Later on, as a preschooler, you can help her practice the skills she already has in order for her to learn new ones! For example, impulse control and flexibility (learning that some rules can be adjusted depending on the context). If your little one receives enough support throughout this process, by her adolescent years she’ll be ready to learn more complex skills, like resisting peer pressure, planning a long-term goal, and overcoming obstacles.
3) Avoiding toxic stress
We’ve all experienced stress of some kind, and it is not a bad thing. What we should avoid is being exposed to severe and long-lasting stress, because this can overload many biological systems and make it difficult to use the core skills we talked about. In early childhood, if the stress response is activated over a long period of time, it can provoke toxic stress, which can have a negative effect on the development of brain architecture. What can you do? Try to avoid situations that can trigger a powerful and long-lasting stress response in your little one. That way she’ll strengthen her neural connections and learn more skills. Also, take care of yourself. If you’re also under a lot of stress for prolonged periods of time, you too can have difficulties implementing your core skills, which can prevent you from providing a supportive environment for your little one.
If you want to learn more about these three principles check out these reports: