Did you know that the majority of a child’s brain development happens before the age of three? That’s a lot! That makes early childhood, and all of the experiences that come with it, critical to supporting lifelong socioemotional, cognitive, and physical health.

This can feel like a lot of pressure for parents. Three years isn’t that long. However, it’s important to keep in mind that some of this development happens on its own. Our friends at the Harvard Center on the Developing Child have found that brain architecture is a product of both “nature” and “nurture.” Meaning that, although development is affected by how and where we are raised, part of our neurological growth is predetermined by DNA.

Even so, it’s been proven time and time again that providing quality time, stimulating interactions, and a nurturing and playful environment during early childhood is crucial in determining a child’s neurological strength and flexibility. Although genetics plays a role in development, early experiences and environments determine whether or not a child reaches his or her full potential. According to the Harvard Center on the Developing Child,

“An early, growth-promoting environment, with adequate nutrients, free of toxins, and filled with social interactions with an attentive caregiver, prepares the architecture of the developing brain to function optimally in a healthy environment. Conversely, an adverse early environment, one that is inadequately supplied with nutrients, contains toxins or is deprived of appropriate sensory, social, or emotional stimulation, results in faulty brain circuitry” (2007).

Early childhood development is, therefore, both a period of opportunity and vulnerability. And it’s up to us, parents and caregivers, to help our children learn how to think, interact, and regulate emotions through adequate stimulation. Even though development doesn’t “close” at age three, experts have found that building advanced physical, cognitive, social, and emotional skills is easier as a child because we become less and less adaptable as we age. The more we can do early on, the better equipped our children will be to take on the world.

If you are interested in reading more about critical periods of development, and how early experiences shape brain architecture, check out the following resources:

  • Knudsen, E.I. (2004). Sensitive periods in the development of the brain and behavior. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 16, 1412-1425. 9. Hess, E.H. (1973). Imprinting: E

María Mirón is a psychology researcher with a Masters in Clinical Psychology. With over eight years of research experience, she has published and presented extensively on Early Childhood Development forums across the globe and is currently a professor of research methods at the University of Monterrey. She is on a mission to bridge the gap between the science of ECD and practical tools for parents.