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There is important new scientific evidence that suggests the first three years of life are much more important in the long-tern development of young children than previously believed. Researchers now confirm that the way parents interact with their young children and the experiences they provide them have a big impact on their youngster's emotional development, learning skills, and how they function later in life. Touching, holding, rocking, talking, listening and reading, or just playing with a child dramatically influences the youngster's brain development.

Today's parent's should be encouraged to begin thinking about brain development even before their child is born. A baby's brain cells multiply at an astonishing rate before birth and it is important that brain development is supported during this crucial time. Poor nutrition, drug use (legal and illegal), cigarette smoke, and alcohol are just a few factors that affect brain development before birth.

After that, it's not just genetics influencing brain development, but the environment as well. At birth, the human brain is unfinished. It contains about 100 billion brain cells that are yet to be connected into functioning networks. By the time a child is three, the brain has formed about one thousand trillion connections between these brain cells. Some of these connections become permanent and others disappear as the youngster grows. How does the brain know which connection to keep? Here is where the child's environment comes into play. Connections that are used repeatedly during a child's early years become the foundation for the brain's organization and function through a child's life. In contrast, a connection that is not used at all results in the lack of their development. Thus, the world around a child greatly influences how their brain forms and functions. Therefore, a youngster's environment is centra/ in shaping the brain.

What does a child need in the first three years of life to achieve their potential?

A child needs to feel safe
All children need to know that they are special
A child needs to feel confident about what to expect from their environment
A child needs discipline
A child needs a balanced experience of freedom and limits
A child needs to be exposed to a diverse environment filled with books, music and appropriate toys.
Parents can best meet these needs by providing a healthy, loving, safe, and emotionally balanced home environment. Youngsters raised by caring, attentive parents in predictable environments are better learners than those who experience less attention in less secure settings. For those children who must attend childcare outside the home, parents should find a consistent child care provider with a small student/adult ratio to allow for personal attention. Remember, the person taking care of the child outside the home is helping to shape the experiences that allow the brain to develop. In addition, the focus of daycare should be on social and emotional development and health and safety issues, rather than teaching subjects and facts.

The good news is that brain (and child) development continues throughout life. There are continuous opportunities throughout childhood to impact positively on the development and well-being of children. This applies to all youngsters, including those with disabilities or special health care needs and those in special child care settings such as foster care or those who are adopted.

Pediatricians have always suspected that the first few month, and years of life are critical to ~ child's development. It is during the "well-child" visits that a child'' physician has the opportunity te consider the child's total health and well -being.

The following elements of a child's health are important in early brain development:

Nutrition Breast-feeding or prope' formula feeding provides the best nutrition and encourages posi tive mother-c hi Id interaction. A proper balanced diet plays a vital role in the growth and development throughout childhood.
Developmntal Activities. Direct face-to-face communication and reading between parents and their young child supports language development.
Early Identification of Developmental Problems. This can lead to early intervention and referral to prevent or treat many developmental and medical problems.
Positive Environment. Raising a child in a positive, loving environment has a huge impact on his or her development.
Brain development is nonstop. Although early childhood is very important, parents of children who are older than age three still have much parenting to do, and should not feel as though they've missed the only chance to help their child's brain growth. Opportunities will abound in the years ahead to impact positively on the well-being of their child. It is never too late to help a child learn and develop.

Today's parents should realize how important their child's first three years of life are to brain development. Parents must understand the importance of their youngster's environment, nourishment, and kind of stimulation they receive during these crucial early years. How their child functions from the preschool years through adolescence, and even adulthood, depends to a great extent on the youngster's early experiences.

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