Parenting: The Formative Years Are Crucial

The formative years are the most fundamental developmental stage in children. It is the period between 0-8 years, during which the brain and neurobiological development are the fastest after birth. This stage can significantly impact the mental development of a child.

Key takeaways:
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    The formative years are the most fundamental developmental stage in children. It is the period between 0-8 years, during which the brain and neurobiological development are the fastest after birth.
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    • The type of exposure a child has during the formative years determines the kind of connections in their brain, which will be a blueprint for the rest of their life.
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    You can maximize your child's formative years and help them have a good start by nurturing their emotional, social, and physical state.

To help you understand the formative years, this article will guide you through the stages of formative years and how to maximize your child's potential during this growth stage.

Brain development during the formative years

The brain is arguably the most vital organ in the human body. Its development begins in the first three weeks of conception. However, this development won't stop during pregnancy — it continues after birth.

The brain experiences more rapid growth during the formative years and the neural blueprint of a child is laid down during this period. Thus, a child's negative and positive experiences during their first five years significantly influence their brain development.

The average size of a newborn brain is about one-fourth the size of an adult brain. Interestingly, the size doubles in the first year of birth and continues to grow to about 80% the size of an adult brain by age 3. By the time a child reaches five years, their brain would be nearly fully grown, at 90% compared to an adult's brain.

Babies are born with all the brain cells (neurons) they need for the rest of their life. However, these neurons cannot act on their own without being connected. This connection is responsible for brain functioning and enables us to think, communicate, move, and do several other things humans do. The formative years are vital for making these connections.

A blueprint for life

You may wonder why these neural connections are essential and how they work. They are formed through the daily experience of a child. In other words, the type of exposure a child has determines the kind of connections in their brain, which will be a blueprint for the rest of their life.

According to the Center on the Developing Child of Harvard University, if a child already has negative neural connections due to early exposure to a negative environment, simply removing such a child from such an environment will not automatically reverse the neural connections. Thus, parents must endeavor to help their wards get positive experiences that trigger positive connections in their brains.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) also reported that exposing children to adversities like physical abuse, emotional neglect, socioeconomic stress, and damaging home life in their formative age can disrupt their brain development, with consequences that extend throughout their lives. On the other hand, if a child is exposed to a happy environment and experiences love during the formative years, they'll grow healthy neurons and live happy lives.

The importance of parents singing, talking, reading, and playing with their children from day one is imperative. It gives children a positive outlook on the world around them and provides a safe and nurturing environment.

Children are the product of their environment; therefore, to help them thrive, they must be exposed to a positive environment.

How can you maximize your child's formative years?

The best thing every parent can do for their child is to nurture them in their formative years. The following are things you can do to help your child in the first eight years of their life.

The infant stage (0- 12 Months)

Provide them with enough stimulation: talking to them, making eye contact, reading them books with pictures, playing with them (like tickling), and letting them play with toys. These help them engage psychologically and have sound mental development.

Help strengthen their muscles: an excellent way to enhance your 0-12 month-old baby's muscles is with a gentle baby massage. You can also put them on their stomach for a short period. This will help strengthen their back and neck. You should only do these when they're awake, and you're close to them. Another muscle-strengthening activity they should engage in is to lie on their backs with their legs and arms free in the air.

Respond immediately when they cry: Don't neglect your baby when they cry. Responding immediately to a crying baby helps strengthen the bonds between you and them, aiding their emotional/social development.

Respond to their communication: your 0-3 month-old baby might not communicate effectively, but you should respond to their communication efforts. If they make noise, don't neglect or shun them. Instead, respond with noise or words of your own. This teaches them how to communicate. When they smile, smile back at them, and when you are talking, move closer to them so that they can observe your mouth movement.

Allow them to grow and explore: age 0-12month is also known as the oral stage, where an infant's mouth is the source of exploration. You will find them putting objects in their mouth while giggling. Do not shout at them at this stage, as they are simply exploring and trying to understand their environment better.

However, be watchful of what goes in and out of their mouth. Give them time out of their bouncer or cot so they can move around. This will help to develop their muscles further. Encourage them to reach for objects by placing their toys slightly away from them. Safety and risk-taking strategies must be balanced to permit growth.

At 9-12 months, you can encourage them to walk by holding their hands and gently walking them around. You can also get them a toy trolley to push around. The infant stage is also an excellent period to teach them to write. Therefore, you can get your infant paper and pen to make marks.

Develop their learning ability: learning can help or hinder a child's maturational process depending on what is learned. To accomplish integration, make different sounds with toys, play different types of music for your infant, and watch how they react. You can also talk to your baby, even though they can't answer you. This helps develop their listening skills and teaches them turn-taking and rhythms of language.

The toddler stage (1-3 Years)

Read to them before bed: This teaches them how to connect sounds to written words, enhances their creativity, and aids their cognitive development.

Calmly respond to their emotions: you're a model to your toddler's behavior. You must not lose control when responding to their emotions. Kids can easily get overwhelmed with emotion; an excellent way to handle this is by letting them know you understand how they feel.

Age 1-3 years is also known as the Anal stage, according to Sigmund Freud's five stages of development. The anus and bladder are the sources of pleasure. Controlling and expelling feces provides pleasure and a sense of control; therefore, toilet training is vital at this stage.

The preschool-age stage (3-6 years)

Encourage them to express all their feelings openly: when your child cries, don't shout them down or shame them. Instead, embrace them and let them feel safe and secure. Never tell them not to cry or to be brave; instead, support them.

Nurture their social skills: Kids practice what they see. Therefore, to nurture your kid's social skills, you must be a role model. For instance, teach them to have a conversation without interrupting by not interrupting when they speak. When they make friends, show them how happy you are and ask conversational questions about their friends.

Let them handle simple chores: a simple task like letting your kid put their shoes in the basket can significantly boost their self-confidence. It also teaches them to accept responsibilities.

Age 4-6 years is also known as the phallic stage; the child's genitals are the center of pleasure at this stage. Other noticeable activities include; fantasy, experimentation with peers, and questions about sexual topics. This is where most parents get worried about their kids.

Building a strong bond with your ward(s) and helping them understand gender identities will help. Parents should encourage and guide their kids at this stage.

The school-age stage (6-8 Years)

Be active together: children are influenced by their peer group at this stage. A child's physical, cognitive, social, and communication skills increase extensively here. Parents should allow time and energy for the school-age child to pursue hobbies and school activities and recognize and support the child's achievement.

Let them play: don't deprive your child of the opportunity to have fun. It should be about more than just reading every time. Playing is the primary way kids learn and develop during their formative years.

Tips for the formative years

According to the California Department of Education (CDE), other parental tips to consider during your child's formative years include:

  • Establish routines and rituals.
  • Encourage them to explore and play.
  • Make TV watching selective.
  • Understand your child and seek a suitable way to help them.

Final thoughts

The formative years are the most fundamental developmental stage in children, and it falls between age 0-8. Since it is the stage that determines who a child is and who they'll eventually become, parents must nurture their wards by treating them with love and exposing them to a positive environment. This will help them have a good start in life.


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