A child’s development is shaped by many influences, including genetic makeup, early interactions with parents or other caregivers, socio-economic factors, and early childhood experiences in the family, at school and in the community.

The fact is that who we are and where we come from has a huge impact on our health, well-being, competence and ability to relate to others and cope with the world around us.

1) Thinking and learning

How a person perceives, thinks, and gains an understanding of his or her world is termed "cognitive development". It refers to our ability to think and learn and includes such things as awareness and judgement, information processing, intelligence, language development, and memory.

To help children’s cognitive development, they need encouragement of exploration, mentoring in basic skills, celebration of developmental advances, guided rehearsal and extension of new skills, protection from inappropriate disapproval, teasing or punishment, and a rich and responsive language environment.

2) Attachment

What is of primary importance is to ensure that children reach their full potential is secure attachment to a trusted caregiver who consistently provides care, affection and support  in infancy and early childhood. Attachment is an on-going relationship between parent (or guardian) and an infant that develops out of the parent’s sensitive care of the newborn and continues throughout the child’s developmental stages. “Sensitive care” means the ability of the parent to empathize with the baby, picking up on its cues or signals about its needs and wants. If these are responded to positively and consistently, the baby learns that the world is safe and predictable.

An infant or toddler is considered “securely attached” if, as they mature and move through their normal developmental stages, they can use their mother or other consistent caregiver as a secure base from which to explore their environment. The baby or toddler trusts that care will be given to them, their needs will be met consistently, they will be helped to learn self regulation, and that they will be encouraged to learn and explore their environment. Securely attached infants and toddlers have the confidence and sense of competence they need to try new things and to learn. If a child learns that he/she has the ability to be effective in their environment, they will explore and learn.  If a baby is frequently left to cry by itself, or is not offered comfort and care, it learns to become mistrustful or fearful of other people. The baby can go on to develop a mental representation of the world as hostile or uncaring and believe that they cannot make a difference in their own life – a kind of pessimism and sense of helplessness that significantly reduces the child’s  and adult’s ability to achieve in life.  

Attachment behaviours and relationships persist throughout life. Teenagers who are securely attached are less prone to depression or anxiety and are less likely to get involved with drug abuse, antisocial behaviour/aggression, or engage in risky sexual activities. Secure attachment in infancy has lifelong consequences for a person’s ability to engage in relationships with others, to maintain commitments to school or work, and to raise healthy, happy children of their own. Although insecure attachment in early childhood can set the stage for further risk factors, its consequences can be overcome by later positive attachments.

Children need to have a sense of security in all aspects of their lives so that they can grow up to be healthy and productive adults. Children who live with insecurities concerning food and/or shelter because of their parents’ poverty can experience chronic anxiety that interferes with their ability to learn, and prevent attachment to school or community.  Many social factors that negatively influence child development, such as multiple house moves, may be due to insufficient income, but can also be due to parental substance abuse, parental mental illness, and lack of affordable housing. None of the problems that children encounter in early life can be blamed on the parents solely. Multiple environmental factors influence how children are raised and it is at the levels of the community and government social policy that the major changes need to be made.

3) The role of parenting

The way parents interact with their children has a direct effect on their development – their level of confidence and self-esteem, their sense of security, their emotional well-being, the way they relate to others, how they deal with authority, and their performance in school.

Parenting styles revolve around three important dimensions:

  • Limit setting – the degree to which parents expect mature and responsible behaviour from their children;
  • Love – the way parents nurture their child by showing affection, approval and support for their development; and
  • Respect – whether or not parents allow their children to express their own thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.

4) Basic parenting styles

There are four basic parenting styles.

Positive parents nurture, discipline, and respect their children in equal measure.  They set high standards and expectations, consistently enforce rules, and encourage independence.  Open communication and the ability to listen are key.  Their parenting is said to be “positive.”

Demanding parents, on the other hand, discipline their children but don’t tend to nurture or respect them.  They value obedience and discourage independence.  They set strict rules, enforce them harshly and do not like to have their authority questioned.  These parents are often described as “dominating”.

Permissive parents tend to nurture their children but don’t engage in effective discipline and don’t model or expect respectful behaviour.  Although they show love and give attention, they make few demands and set no guidelines or structure for their children.

Unengaged parents don’t discipline, nurture, or respect their children.  They are generally uninvolved and disinterested in parenting, interacting only minimally with their child.  Their lack of interest may be due to their own immaturity or to problems with substance abuse.

5) The impact of parenting on children

Research over many years has confirmed over and over that parenting style has a direct effect on how children grow and thrive.

In general, children do better in life if they come from a home in which there is positive (authoritative) parenting.  Children from positive homes have good self-esteem and self-confidence, and have lower levels of anxiety and depression.  They function better socially, academically, and in the work world, and have few, if any, behaviour problems.  They tend to become respectful and responsible adults.

Children from authoritarian homes have both low self-esteem and self-confidence, high levels of anxiety and depression, and tend to have problems interacting with others.  Their academic achievement is usually average and they have some behaviour problems. They also have persistent problems with authority.

Children from permissive homes have high self-esteem and self-confidence, and reduced levels of anxiety and depression, but they tend to do badly at school, show a lot of behaviour problems and lack respect and responsibility.

At the other end of the spectrum, children who come from homes in which the parents are unengaged have the worst outcomes as adults.  They tend to have low self-esteem and self-confidence, high levels of depression and anxiety, and have poor social skills.  They have a lot of behaviour problems, do badly in school, have little respect for themselves or others, and lack responsibility.




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