Starting Smart: Helping Parents Support Healthy Brain Development
It is now clear that what a child experiences in the first years of life profoundly influences how his brain will develop and how he will interact with the world throughout his life. Parents play the most important role in providing the nurturing and stimulation that children require, but they need information and support to develop good parenting skills. In the past, extended family
members were often close by, offering good advice and acting as role models for inexperienced parents. Young families today often live far away from grandparents and other family and rely more on community resources for information and support in parenting. There is much that communities can do to help families promote their children’s healthy brain development.
Educate parents about the importance of early experiences for their children’s development
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).
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