Understanding Child Development from Birth to Three Years
For parents, those first sleepless days with a newborn are a whirlwind of crying, nursing, and diaper changes. For the newborn, however, this is a time of utmost importance when it comes to growth and learning. From birth to 3 years old, children learn the basics of their world through experiences that set the foundation for the rest of their lives.
Newborns are in a state of constant sensory stimulation. In fact, we all are, but for babies, this information is brand new. Babies are born quite helpless, unable to move well, or focus their eyes. They are completely dependent on their caregivers for every aspect of their care and well-being. But they are not completely blank slates. At birth, newborns have the ability to recognize their parents’ voices and they can communicate their needs by crying out, often using different tones for different needs. Parents then respond to the baby’s cries, teaching them that their communication efforts are worthwhile and yield positive results. At this early stage, babies benefit most from being held, touched, and loved. Gentle, loving touch helps neurons connect to one another in a baby’s brain, helping them learn not only that they are cared for and supported, but also important sensory information such as understanding the difference between hot and cold. Without this skin to skin contact with loving guardians, a baby’s brain will map very differently, lacking appropriate synapses, and potentially causing lifelong emotional and psychological issues.
The more babies hear speech and conversation around them, the better their absorption of language. It is amazing that newborns come into the world unable to recognize even a single word, yet, by nine months old, many babies can say, “mama” and “dada” to the correct parent, and by three years old, they are able to have full conversations with parents and peers. It is easy to think that watching television may be helpful for language acquisition in children, but studies show this is not the case. Babies learn sounds and words by listening to and watching other people, face to face, and mimicking what they hear. Talking to babies as much as possible will definitely help broaden their communication skills. Play is also a crucial aspect of these early developmental years. Babies play by putting everything in their mouths from teething rings to the cat’s tail! (This is why they need close parental supervision.) They love looking at objects and seeing how they work. Gradually, children’s play evolves into imaginative play. Children learn all sorts of valuable life lessons from play time, such as self-regulation, socialization, other children’s boundaries, sharing, and much more.
One frustrating aspect of these early years for both parents and children is the emergence of temper tantrums. These are caused by the frustration children feel as they break through the boundaries of their limited but growing communication skills. Parents can help children through this frustration by remaining as calm as possible and encouraging children to use their words.
Children develop such an astonishing array of skills during these early years of life that it is difficult to describe in mere paragraphs. They start out as squishy newborns, barely able to focus their eyes or control their limbs, to walking, talking children who run on playgrounds and share opinions, and endlessly ask, “Why?” This is a time period in which it is truly imperative that children learn they are loved and supported, that they are exposed to language, and a variety of caring, trustworthy people. This will give them the best start possible, allowing them to develop confidence and happiness as they discover their own inquisitive nature, and the beauty of learning who they truly are, and how they fit into this big, wide world.