Parents are the most critical element in the lives of their young children. No other relationship has quite the same influence on how children acquire strong values, solid character traits and skills over a lifetime.
The more parents know about the developmental stages of early childhood, the more likely they are to adopt techniques that encourage their children’s feelings of attachment, willingness to explore and learn from the world around them and the capacity to regulate their emotions and impulses. Parents who are educated in their children’s developmental needs are better equipped to create stimulating home environments for active learning and seek out the same qualities in child care settings in their communities. Knowledgeable parents also are more likely to recognize cognitive, behavioral or physiological problems at an earlier age, before they become more severe and difficult to address.
Research indicates that very young children learn best when their parents understand how to engage in what developmental specialists call “serve-and-return” interactions. These types of exchanges occur when infants and toddlers attempt to interact with their environments through verbal babbling and physical gestures. When parents acknowledge, respond to and intentionally expand upon these cues with appropriate words, facial expressions and gestures, it sets up a volleying back-and-forth pattern that promotes language development and parent-child attachment. Consistent, highly interactive serve-and-return exchanges create stronger neural connections in the developing brain and prepare the way for increasingly sophisticated skills as children grow older.
Few parents feel fully prepared to undertake the challenge of raising small children, no matter what kinds of resources they have available to them. These challenges are compounded when families struggle to overcome conditions and circumstances that make it harder for parents to meet their responsibilities as caregivers and educators.
Research shows that the most successful early childhood programs offset the effects of these risk factors by serving children directly and by building parents' skills and connecting them to resources in their community that can improve family stability and resiliency. Strategic investments in high-quality early childhood programs are also investments in the families who form the foundation of stronger communities and a higher quality of life for Nebraskans overall.