Decades of research have shown that positive interactions between parents and children have a major impact on the development of children’s brains. When babies are first born, they look for the warmth of their mothers to help them feel safe and secure. As children develop, how their parents respond to their needs shapes their emotional, mental and social well-being.Without nurturing from parents and caregivers, very young children have difficulty developing the emotional and cognitive skills they need to process the world around them. In short, they have greater difficulty learning.A parent’s response to cries from her baby – or to her cooing – helps the baby learn the fundamental mechanics of human communication. In fact, babies whose cries are ignored often are challenged in vocabulary development later on. This is because a baby’s efforts at communication need to be met with a back-and-forth from the people closest to her in order to encourage her to continue to communicate, and eventually learn to use her words.There are many ways that parents and caregivers can be responsive to their babies’ needs, and help them develop emotional and mental security. When a baby cries, parents can pick their babies up and cuddle, rock or sing to them. Other non-verbal actions like gazing into a baby’s eyes, stroking their heads and backs, and breastfeeding or holding them close while bottle-feeding help them relax and feel safe.For parents and caregivers who feel challenged by their infant care-taking responsibilities, programs across the country like the Early Head Start program have been designed to support children and their families, and help promote safe and secure relationships for better children’s development.
- The National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement explains why positive parent-child relationships are so important.
- This article from Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child explains Early Head Start and how toxic stress can negatively affect children.
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