Birth to age five marks early childhood. In schools, this stage of development is extended to seven or eight years, when it is loosely believed that the age of reason begins. A tremendous amount of growth occurs during this time- cognitively, physically, and socio-emotionally. It is therefore essential that children reside in a safe, nurturing, encouraging environment during such formative years. But why are these years so crucial?
It is during this time that the brain undergoes its most dramatic growth… so much that it is unparalleled any other time in life. Indeed, it establishes the foundation for language development. Thinking becomes more complex. Both fine and gross motor skills improve. Children start to understand their own feelings, as well as those of others. Without appropriate models and occasions to practice such skills, a child can show substantial delays compared to like-aged peers.
Characteristics of a healthy, happy, and productive child are dependent upon the core attachment (bonding) capabilities that are formed during infancy and early childhood. Experiences during this vulnerable period of life are critical in shaping the capacity to learn and grow, in addition to form intimate, emotionally beneficial relationships. (Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., www.ChildTrauma.org). In the case of neglect, trauma, and/or abuse, these human traits are stripped from the child.
As common sense would have it, an actively-engaged child is more likely to take risks in learning than one who has had less human contact and adult interaction. It is pertinent that an adult caregiver serve as a language model such that the child is exposed to conversation on a regular basis. According to Betty Hart, Ph.D. and Todd Risely, Ph.D., professors from the University of Kansas, by three years of age, a child from a language-rich environment will have heard 30 million more words than a toddler from a less verbal home (Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, Education.com). Moreover, language development plays directly into literacy and overall school and life success.
Likewise, a child requires appropriate health and medical care or s/he can develop life-threatening physical disability. Chronic malnutrition of infants and toddlers can result in growth retardation as well as brain damage. Delays in gross and fine motor development can lead to poor muscle tone and motor control, therefore causing the child to fail to develop and perfect basic skills and coordination (Effects of Abuse and Neglect on Development, www.dshs.wa.gov/ca/fosterparents/training/chidev/cd05a.htm).
Socially, emotionally, and behaviorally, a supportive household can make the difference between a well-adjusted individual and one that is continually fighting his/her own battles. Low self-esteem, problems forming and maintaining healthy relationships, depression, and social disabilities can make it increasingly difficult for a child to live a happy life (Susanne Babbel, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/.../child-neglect-and-adult-ptsd...).
The long and short of it is, that infants, toddlers, and young children need to have a caring adult, willing and capable of offering age-appropriate cognitive, physical, and socio-emotional support, as well as engagement, in order to develop into a productive citizen. Every child deserves attention to these basic needs. Please join me in ensuring that all youth have the opportunity to benefit from the above-discussed human rights.