Often parents don’t know about the many little things they can do to foster their children’s healthy cognitive and emotional development, like talking to the children beginning in infancy, reading to them from a very early age, and helping them play simple games. Parents, especially new or young parents, may also need help learning to recognize their children’s cues that they are hungry for stimulation or have had enough. In some cases written materials or a few sessions of parenting education classes may be all that a parent needs to learn how to provide his or her child with appropriate stimulation. However, parenting styles and beliefs that have evolved over generations—such as rarely talking to babies—can be difficult for parents to change.
Many parents benefit from community-based programs in which a parent group leader or a home visitor acts as a role model and coach, supporting parents in their relationships with their children. Programs that work with parents over several years can be very successful in helping them become effective “first teachers” of their children (Olds et al, 1993).
Prevent abuse and neglect
Children who are abused or severely neglected are at extremely high risk of developing emotional, behavioral, social, and intellectual disabilities. By the time a child is identified as having been neglected or abused, these problems have already begun to develop. Greater attention must be given to preventing maltreatment before it starts. High-quality home visiting programs that start working with families as soon as the child is born have proven to be effective in preventing abuse and neglect (MacMillan et al., 1994). The key to these programs’ success is that they help parents manage the stresses of raising children before unhealthy patterns develop and things get out of control.
Ensure adequate nutrition in the first years after birth
Numerous studies have shown the devastating effects on intelligence and brain development of a lack of basic nutrients in the prenatal period, in infancy and in early childhood. High rates of child abuse, neglect as well as
persistently high rates of school failure in some communities indicate that far too many children do not receive what they need during their first few years for healthy brain growth and development. As our society becomes even more technically and socially complex, we cannot afford to continue to allow large numbers of children to miss out on the positive experiences they need in infancy and early childhood; the costs, in terms of lost intellectual potential and increased rates of emotional and behavioral problems, are too high. The new developments in brain research show
us what children need; our challenge is to ensure that every child receive it.