There is no easy answer to this question.
A child’s development is shaped by many influences, including genetic makeup, early interactions with parents or other caregivers, socioeconomic 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.
Environment vs. temperament
All children need an environment that is hospitable and nurturing in order to develop well. However, children are not born “blank slates,” on which the environment alone creates an imprint. Children are born with a temperament; that is, whether they are calm or irritable, whether they are easily settled or fussy. There are also genetic factors that influence such things as a child’s capacity to learn the social use of language, to play, to regulate his/her emotions, and to interact with adults and peers.
What is crucial is the interaction between the child’s inborn strengths and weaknesses and how the parents or caregivers respond to their infant’s needs. If baby is temperamentally “difficult” then the mother (or guardian) can learn how to interact in ways that will limit the baby’s distress and promote strong affectional bonds between them. If the child is at risk for developing language problems, then those responsible for his or her care can modify the way they interact with the baby, providing an environment of enriched language that is also accepting and not harshly critical.
Healthy child development is not solely the responsibility of individual parents. If we want all children to grow up able to reach their full potential, then all those who have contact with them must be committed to providing more than the bare minimum to achieve that goal. Teachers, neighbours, community members, and government all have to take action to meet the needs of children and help supply the healthy environment known through scientific and social research to produce the best outcomes in our children
For physical well-being children need:
- Food security – families need sufficient money to buy nutritious food that is available on a daily basis.
- Secure shelter – as a bare minimum, housing should provide protection from weather conditions, have working plumbing, lighting and heating, have no safety or health hazards, and be affordable without undue strain on family income.
- Good health behaviours – children should be able to get adequate sleep and exercise, receive up-to-date immunizations, and have access to medical care, including preventive care.
For development of good mental health, children need:
- Love, praise, and positive regard from trusted family members and other adults.
- Children thrive on affection and loving attention, praise, and encouragement.
- To have boundaries set on their behaviour and to be monitored and supervised when at play or at leisure.
- Acceptance for who they are at home, school, and in the community. Love and positive regard should not be conditional on their parents’, teachers’ or sports coaches’ wants and needs. Children have a range of skills. They need to be challenged in order to grow but they don’t need to be criticized because they aren’t consistently good at everything they try.
- Encouragement and support to succeed at school and to develop their skills and talents. Children should be given the opportunity to explore the arts, be exposed to a wide variety of educational and cultural activities, and learn manual skills, so that they can find their gifts. The environment must change in order to accommodate the range of skills, abilities, difficulties and impairments that children demonstrate all through their development.
- A safe neighbourhood in which to live and play. Neighbourhoods have a lot of influence on whether or not children thrive. In neighbourhoods where populations are transient, where there is high unemployment, high numbers of poor families led by single mothers, language and social skills are poor and academic achievement is low, there are more school dropouts and more crime.
- Loving guidance and discipline. Children who are given boundaries, who are treated fairly, and given good guidance about their behaviour, generally develop good self regard and are more likely to be respectful of others. On the other hand, children who are treated harshly and frequently criticized tend to develop behaviour, mood or relationship problems that can persist into and throughout adult life.[1,2]
Thinking & learning ability
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.”
- Children’s Mental Health. What Every Child Needs for Good Mental Health http://www.nmha.org/infoctr/factsheets/72.cfm
- Vanier Institute of the Family. 2003.Lessons Learned from Canada’s Surveys of Children and Youth. Transition Magazine; 33(3). http://www.vifamily.ca/node/339
- Ramey CT, Ramey SL. 1998. Prevention of Intellectual Disabilities, Preventive Medicine 17: 224-232 1998.