Building on a well-established knowledge base more than half a century in the making, recent advances in the science of early childhood development and its underlying biology provide a deeper understanding that can inform and improve existing policy and practice, as well as help generate new ways of thinking about solutions. In this important list, featured in the From Best Practices to Breakthrough Impacts report, the Center on the Developing Child sets the record straight about some aspects of early child development.
1. Even infants and young children are affected adversely when significant stresses threaten their family and caregiving environments.
Adverse fetal and early childhood experiences can lead to physical and chemical disruptions in the brain that can last a lifetime. The biological changes associated with these experiences can affect multiple organ systems and increase the risk not only for impairments in future learning capacity and behavior, but also for poor physical and mental health outcomes.
2. Development is a highly interactive process, and life outcomes are not determined solely by genes.
The environment in which one develops before and soon after birth provides powerful experiences that chemically modify certain genes in ways that then define how much and when they are expressed. Thus, while genetic factors exert potent influences on human development, environmental factors have the ability to alter family inheritance. For example, children are born with the capacity to learn to control impulses, focus attention, and retain information in memory, but their experiences as early as the first year of life lay a foundation for how well these and other executive function skills develop.
3. While attachments to their parents are primary, young children can also benefit significantly from relationships with other responsive caregivers both within and outside the family.
Close relationships with other nurturing and reliably available adults do not interfere with the strength of a young child’s primary relationship with his or her parents. In fact, multiple caregivers can promote young children’s social and emotional development. That said, frequent disruptions in care and high staff turnover and poor-quality interactions in early childhood program settings can undermine children’s ability to establish secure expectations about whether and how their needs will be met.
Read More: 8 Things to Remember about Child Development
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