A child’s first five years are the most important
It’s not very often that an international consultant in child development and a noted parenting expert comes for a visit. The recent visit of Carrie Lupoli was thus rare and very welcome.
She flew into town as part of her Southeast Asian tour for Fisher Price. I was fortunate enough to spend a little time getting to know her and listening to her thoughts and ideas on parenting.
With a bachelor’s degree and a Masters of Art in Special Education as well as a Masters of Education in School Administration and Leadership, Carrie wanted to empower every parent in the room by discussing the basic things parents need to know about early child development and learning.
Carrie began her talk by telling us a story of how she and her family went on a four-hour road trip while they were based in Norway. Her husband drove, relying solely on their GPS.
Then guess what? They realized they were heading in the opposite direction… after two hours! They turned around and drove back, even passing by their house after another two hours.
The family had a quick debate as to whether they should just stay home for the weekend or continue, and everyone decided that they would carry on. They eventually made it to their destination but only after driving a total of eight hours.
For many of us, parenting is a road trip strangely similar to that of the Lupolis. We all have a goal, an intended destination with our children. But more often than not, we don’t actually have a map and we end up driving blindly and may not even realize we are in the wrong direction until it is too late.
Or sometimes, just as Carrie’s husband put all his trust in his GPS, we put all our trust in other resources, which are very helpful and necessary as well such as teachers and caregivers but in doing so, we might be overlooking the one resource our child truly needs, his parents.
In the end, with or without a map, we can make it to our destination but do we really want to waste years making the wrong turns and having to make up for lost time when we could have happily gone in the right direction from the start?
Markers, landmarks of development
This is the kind of parenting scenario that Carrie aims to avoid. While she is the first to admit that there is absolutely no fool-proof map to parenting, she tells us that there are certain markers and landmarks that we can watch out for us to know where we should be at certain points of the journey and what we should be doing in those places if we take time to learn about the brain development, milestones and how kids learn best.
Brain Development—Carrie could not emphasize enough how crucial and special the first five years are in a child’s brain development. This was something she repeated. While a newborn’s organs such as the heart and lungs function fully as they will in a healthy 40-year-old adult, a newborn’s brain is far from the 40-year-old’s fully developed brain.
From 0-5 years, the brain is constantly creating new connections and developing at the most rapid pace it will ever be in a person’s life, before it begins to stabilize at age 6.
This is why it is so important that parents take advantage of this incredible time to allow their children to develop and learn as much as possible, while their brains absorb everything like a sponge.
While flash cards and work books are always welcome, child development rests primarily on the kind of environment and attention a child enjoys in the first few years.
The relationships children have at this stage with family and community contributes to their brain development. Bonding is necessary for their brains to make the connections for trust and security, while positive relations in a secure environment allow children to develop strong bonds for healthy relationships.
The kind of relationship we have with our children at this stage will reverberate through their adult life. Research proves that children who experience secure attachments in infancy move on to healthy adult relations.
Some additional tips she gave for making the most of these precious years were:
Provide a safe home environment where your child can explore and develop on his own. Provide supervision but let your child lead the way to discovery.
Give your child undivided attention several times throughout the day. Respond to your child’s world, interests and activities.
Provide a household where music, conversations and ideas abound.
Respect the fine line between encouragement and hurrying. You must recognize that your child will learn on an individual timeline as long as you provide the daily opportunities to learn alongside heartfelt enthusiasm.
Encourage your child to be a problem-solver early in life, letting him look for solutions for everyday dilemmas.
Engage in age-appropriate activities and provide age-appropriate toys and materials for play.
Encourage hands-on play and discovery for children. This goes for older children as well.
Understanding developmental milestones
With her background in Special Education, Carrie focused on understanding developmental milestones in babies and children.
Too many times, we compare our children with those of our friends. This does great injustice to them because it is way too narrow and small a group and will not give you a true understanding of the average.
Do your child a favor and know the research about the average age and milestones concerned by going to www.cdc.gov/milestones.
Knowing what skills children should have at what stage will save you from the stress of having to push your child to do what your neighbor’s kid is doing and allow you to enjoy raising your child at the right pace.
Knowing the right milestones for his age will also allow you to intervene early enough should your child need additional support.
According to Carrie, “the first five years are the most pivotal because there is so much that parents can do that would make all the difference in the world. Do not delay early intervention because you could be missing out on a period when you could have key moments to intervene.”
Joyful Learning—We all have a goal for their children. We all want our children to grow up happy, healthy and successful, but how do we reach out to our children and impart to them the things we want them to bring into their adulthood?
Children learn best through play. When children play, they are at their most natural and happiest and learn easily without even realizing it. Playing allows children to practice skills, demonstrate what they learn, understand, think and establish self-confidence and self-esteem with every experience.
“It is through play-based activities that we see whether developmental milestones are being met because developmental milestones are established based on how children should be naturally playing at each stage,” Carrie said.
Playing is serious business that parents should make time for in their children’s increasingly hectic schedules.
When we first hold a newborn in our arms, we feel that 18 to 21 years seem like a long time to teach our child everything he needs to know to deal with the real world. But when you talk about making sure they grow up with the right character traits such as kindness, honesty, prudence and so much more, even a lifetime doesn’t seem enough.
Carrie envisions her children’s years with her as her time to fill up a box they can take upon leaving home and from where they can draw their strength and character.
Just like Carrie, we each have our box for our children that we hope to fill up with the right values. It’s not always easy, but if we go through each day knowing exactly what we want to be in that box and what our goal is, then everyday can be an opportunity to teach them something and move a step closer in the right direction.