Parenting In Focus: Getting off to a good start

The first nine months of pregnancy through the first five years of life are considered the critical years for establishing the foundation for learning. A mother’s nutritional health, social, emotional and educational conditions will have a big impact on the future development, educational and social successes of her child.

The bonding, social interactions, and relationships established between parents and children during the first year of life will affect the child’s self-esteem, language, brain development, world view, values, personality and relationships with others.

The environment during the first three years of a child’s life should be stimulating, nurturing, supportive and loving. If a child is talked to, read to, allowed to explore, experiment and use all five of his senses, he will be more likely to be ready for school.

This is a lot to expect from parents. But parents with little knowledge try to do most of the tasks that they need to be doing.

To put these tasks in more everyday terms, there are some things you need to remember:

• Beginning at birth, your child begins to form personal beliefs about her self-worth.

• Treat her with respect and expect her to treat you and others with respect.

• Encouragement from parents helps her develop her self-esteem.

• Encouragement lets your child decide for herself if she is happy with what she did. Encouragement doesn’t make comparisons or demand perfection.

• Be concerned that your child learns how to learn, not that she always performs perfectly.

• Don’t push your child. Help her set reasonable goals, accept her efforts and appreciate her improvements.

• Show your child that you love her with words, touch, time and respect.

• Be excited about your child’s progress. This makes her proud.

• Find caregivers who have similar philosophies as you when you can’t be with your child.

• Encourage yourself. Value yourself and the job you are doing raising your child and face the challenges with courage.

Children and their families need to feel that they belong together. One of your jobs as a parent is to help connect your child to the wider world.

He needs to know he has a place. He needs to feel comfortable with the routines of home, the customs you celebrate, and what he can expect that will happen regularly.

He also needs to know the limits and boundaries of acceptable behavior. When these things are there for him, he will feel he belongs.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation.