“LifeLines is a monthly column dedicated to addressing issues of mental, behavioural, and social health. The column appears monthly, and is written by professionals in the field of social work, mental health, and community medicine”.
Once again for 2017, the Early Childhood Unit is an advocate for of all children of St.Kitts and Nevis. In an effort to build a society that demonstrates appropriate care and respect for children, the Ministry of Education, and by extension the Early Childhood Unit, has as its obligation the mandate of ensuring a better tomorrow. Hence, each year, our theme is a continuation of the Sector’s responsibility to encourage families, early childhood practitioners and the general public to take their rightful position in assisting to shape the lives of our nation’s children.
UNICEF has launched ‘Early Moments Matter’, a new campaign to drive increased awareness about the importance of the first one thousand (1000) days of a child’s life and the impact of early experiences on the developing brain. It is in this regard that the Early Childhood Sector has chosen to support this venture by adopting the theme ‘For Every Child, Early Moments Matter’ for this year’s 33rd Child Month Celebration–as this is a basic right for all children. Actually, UNICEF is calling for governments to increase investments in early childhood, expand health and social services offered to young children, and to strengthen support services for parents and caregivers. The initiative also aims to drive demand for quality, affordable early childhood development services and to urge governments to invest in programmes targeting the most vulnerable children.
Notably, neuroscience has revealed that during the first year of life, neurons in our brain form new connections at the astounding rate of seven hundred to one thousand (700–1,000) per second – a pace that will never be repeated again. During this critical window of opportunity, brain cells operate at once-in-a-lifetime speed. These connections contribute to a child’s brain functioning and learning, and lay the foundation for future health and happiness. These connections are essentially the building blocks of a child’s future.
Unfortunately, if a child is poorly nourished and nurtured, if she/he is not stimulated properly and protected from violence, then the child’s development is seriously affected, and this is sometimes irreversible. A lack of nurturing care (e.g lack of adequate nutrition, stimulation, love and protection from stress and violence) can impede the development of these critical connections. A child whose brain does not develop properly may not learn or earn as much as possible, later in life. Not developing to his/her full potential hurts both the child and society. It is worthy to note that the first thousand (1000) days has a significant effect on a child’s future. There is only one chance to get it right.
Early childhood engagement has been shown to have a high return on investment. In other words, investing early works. Heckman has found that high-quality early interventions can help to reverse the effects of harmful experiences early in a child’s life. Such findings give credence to the fact that ‘For Every Child, Early Moments Matter’. These efforts, Heckman explains, “benefit not only the children themselves, but also their children, as well as the society at large.”
Useful strategies for Making Early Moments in a Child’s life Matter
1. Observe to better understand a child’s unique preferences. Through observation, for example, you can learn how sensitive a child is to touch or how he responds to new experiences.
2. Forming healthy attachment supports a child’s/baby’s social and emotional development throughout life. As you read and respond to a baby’s /child’s cues, you begin to form an attachment with that child. Both you and the baby will experience a healthy connection.
3.Be consistent and responsive.This helps the baby/child know you are a trusted person. Even if you can’t respond right away, let the baby/child know that you hear him and that you are on your way.
4. Respond to the child’s request without hesitation. This gives the child a strong sense of trust and emotional stability, while teaching the child that he is important and worthy of your attention
5. Encourage laughter. Laughter helps children connect with others and signals that the environment is safe and fun.
6. Show parents how they can connect with their baby through humor. Ask what makes their baby laugh.
7. Help parents feel like they are the most important people to the baby/child. “Look at that smile; she gives you her very best smiles! Everyone can see how important Daddy [or Mommy] is!”
8.Care for yourself. If you are tired or stressed, you are less likely to respond sensitively and consistently to the many demands the child makes. Be sure you find ways to recharge.
9. Ask parents about their unique experience/relationship with their child : “How does your baby/child let you know she/he is ready to interact with you?”
10. Provide a safe environment for exploration, as young children need time to discover things for themselves.
11. Expose the infant early to the world of literacy– this helps to increase the child’s vocabulary and encourages a love of reading.
12. Try singing or playing lullabies and songs that repeat pattern and rhythms. These songs are both enriching and enjoyable to children.
13. Try dancing to music with the infant, for a fun, bonding activity.
In concluding, let me reiterate that ‘For Every Child, Early Moments Matter’. The question asked, then, is “What is the most important thing a child has?” It’s their brain. Yet, according to Mr. Anthony Lake, Executive Director, UNICEF “We’re not caring for children’s brains the way we care for their bodies.” It is critical that we remember that too much stress causes a hormone called cortisol to form over the brain, which hardens the brain and impedes learning. Let us all be mindful that we have to do more to protect and to ensure that each child fulfils their potential. Security and opportunity must go hand in hand. More importantly, Child Protection must be a fundamental element across all public, private and voluntary organizations. Equally, we must be ambitious for all children, regardless of whoever they are and wherever they live.
Let’s make every moment in the lives of children a positive one. HAPPY HAPPY CHILD MONTH!!!!
Ms. June Wallace Ag. Director, Early Childhood Development