Factors Affecting Early Child Development

Sure healthy food is key, but don't forget about these other influences

Photograph by Trevor Goodwin - Fotolia

Moms anticipate and celebrate developmental milestones with unbridled gusto, but let's face it -- the pace of early childhood development can be dizzying. If the tiny footprints in your baby book suddenly look to you like tire tracks, you are not alone. You cannot slow the pace of time, but an awareness of the factors that influence early child development can help you to make choices that maximize your child's developmental potential.

Nutrition

Good nutrition packs a wallop. No surprise here, right? But it might surprise you to know that the ultimate power of nutrition's punch lies within you! That's right -- moms hold the key. Sure, you consistently provide optimal sources of nutrition. Now, go a step further by providing a variety of choices at regularly scheduled times. All eyes are on you, so model and talk about good nutrition at every meal. It's easy for moms to forget that as role models, they open or close the door that leads to healthy eating.

RELATED: 10 Habits of Healthy Kids

Sleep

Moms need sleep to cope, but a child's brain needs sleep to develop and grow. From newborns to school-age kids, a consistent bedtime routine benefits children. However, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, "How much sleep does my child really need?" Your child’s chronological age provides a beginning place for determining sleep needs, but individual differences can make your 3-year-old’s sleep pattern quite different from another child’s in the same age group.

Trauma

Regardless of the type, trauma can produce lasting negative effects on the developing brain of an infant and young child. Loving parental support is key for helping children affected by trauma to rebound, recover and achieve their developmental potential. Children may demonstrate evidence of trauma through changes in eating and sleeping patterns, problems in attaining developmental milestones or changes in play behavior. Examples of early childhood trauma include surviving a natural disaster, losing a family member or experiencing a chronic illness. Other forms of trauma are abuse, poverty and parental alcohol or drug abuse.

Physical Activity

There's no need to enroll your young child in extracurricular classes to start her on a lifelong journey of fitness. Her needs are really few: a coach, cheerleader and model -- in other words, a loving mom. You can be your child's coach by supervising age-appropriate play in a protected setting. Be her cheerleader by offering enthusiastic praise for her efforts. And finally, model a lifestyle that includes exercise.

RELATED: 20 Healthy Snacks

Attachment

A positive relationship with an adult that enables a child to feel safe and valued creates a secure attachment. Children who have developed a secure attachment to their mom are easy to identify on the playground or a doctor's waiting room. They are confident enough to investigate their new surroundings because mom is a safe harbor to return to if a storm appears on the horizon. Securely attached children can practice new communication skills and acquire new concepts about their world because they are confident that their needs will be met. On the flip side of the attachment coin, children who have an insecure attachment with an adult may appear clingy, timid and confused.

Learning Opportunities

As a mom, you were already well on your way to providing learning opportunities the first time you talked to your child and held her in your arms. Consider yourself the captain of a ship that will take your child on a voyage to literacy. Along the way, provide an assortment of books, music, toys and art supplies. Go ahead -- read the favorite story a third, fourth and fifth time. Let your child see that writing and books play an important role in your daily adult routine.

Becky Swain's first publication appeared in the "Journal of Personality Assessment" in 1984. Her articles have also appeared on various websites. She is an adjunct college instructor, licensed school psychologist and educational consultant. She holds a Master of Science in clinical psychology and a Doctor of Philosophy in educational psychology, both from Mississippi State University.

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