Three of our children planted a lima bean seed in their own individual cups three Sundays ago. One never grew because it was overwatered from the start by our overzealous four year old, one grew a little but then withered and died, and one flourished. They were all in the same windowsill with the same amount of light and the two that did grow got the same amount of water. It went perfectly with the parable of the sower, but I also could not help but think about how this applies to our children in their lives and development. We, as parents, all want our children to become healthy, happy, well-adjusted adults who are able to thrive in this ever-changing world. Consider with me, if you will, these few things every child needs.
1. Every child needs consistent, permanent, healthy, all-encompassing, positive attention from their parents and members of their family. Through these positive interactions you do like making eye contact when they are talking to you, smiling, using kind tones and facial expressions, using words to encourage your child, showing physical affection like hugging, and showing interest in your child’s activities and achievements, they learn about themselves and how to interact with others. Our children need positive attention to grow, develop self-esteem, succeed in the things they do, and develop a positive sense of self. There has even been research done that shows parental attentiveness has a connection to releasing children’s growth hormones. Positive attention from parents and family especially helps your child feel secure and valued.
It is so important to not withhold a child from a parent or family members unless of course it is a dangerous situation for the children that they should not be part of. This can lead to the “withering” and not thriving just like the lima bean seeds. Never discredit the other parent to the child. For example, do not tell a child that parent b does not love them, does not want to see them, and does not care about them. Accusations can be mild or severe, but it distorts the child’s image of an otherwise very healthy relationship with parent b and is bad for the child. It can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, depression, withdrawal, acting out, etc. Parent A more than likely ends up extending this same treatment to members related to parent B’s family. Children who are alienated from parents or family experience increased anger, have heightened feelings of neglect, learn destructive patterns they pass onto others, take on a skewed view of reality, become combative with others by learning an “us vs. them” mentality, they see things very black and white, and can lack empathy. Obviously, if a parent is abusive or otherwise harmful, there need to be limits on exposure to the child. But in most circumstances where two parents were together and simply had irreconcilable differences, the child gains the most from having both parents in their lives equally.
2. Families are diverse now. The definition of a family has changed so much in the last 50-75 years and is not relevant for most families now. But even though that is the case, it is important to provide children with stability in your household. Take them to see family that they used to be able to see all the time, start or keep attending events and school functions, and always be sure to do everything in YOUR power to keep the child’s life as stable as possible by not interrupting normal routines. If you were in a bad situation and left, then you can create your new normal routine.
Children thrive in a consistent and predictable environment. When they are not able to be in their predictable environment it leads to chaos, uncertainty, and a wide variety of issues we can touch on later.
Children will never be able to thrive, or learn in an environment they do not feel safe in. An environment that is not safe, may actually cause the child stress. As children feel safe in their environment they will be able to explore, build relationships, and navigate through the environment without harm or restrictions. This might mean they simply just don’t feel safe having effective communication. That is a skill that most adults have not even mastered. But if you begin communicating with your child, and there is no one hindering that, it will help them to express their feelings of frustration, excitement, anger, and happiness. These are vital verbal skills that children need to succeed in school and in life.
Just as children need a safe environment, they need positive role models, and stable relationships like we discussed above to thrive and become independent. Parents act as role models for children and can show them how to act with respect, compassion, empathy, loyalty, dedication, and hard work. Most of these can be shown just by the way we as parents treat them. This also helps children to develop self-esteem. With encouragement and positivity from these relationships, children will develop great self-esteem.
3. Human touch is one of the basic needs for survival, so of course it is extremely important too. We have movie nights all the time and have the kids take turns sitting by either Justin or myself so we can all snuggle up. With the little babies we cuddle in bed every morning before getting our day started for at least ten minutes. Cuddling, holding, hugging, or (even if they are older and too cool) just simply sitting close to them does so much more than comfort them. Physical touch helps our children’s brain development. We all crave it to some extent whether we realize it or not. The first sense we develop is touch. There are around five million touch receptors in our skin so it comes as no surprise that a reassuring squeeze of a hand, a giant bear hug, a simple side hug, or just a hand on the shoulder can have a calming effect.
Even though touch has so many health benefits, touch deprivation can have a detrimental effect on our children. Research suggests that American children and adolescents are dangerously touch-deprived. Psychologist Matthew Hertenstein, Ph.D., explains that touch deprivation is a real thing. “Most of us, whatever our relationship status, need more human contact than we’re getting,” says Hertenstein. “Compared with other cultures, we live in a touch-phobic society.” Neurologist Shekar Raman, MD, in Richmond, Virginia says: “A hug, pat on the back, and even a friendly handshake are processed by the ‘reward center’ in the central nervous system of our brain, which is why it can have a powerful impact on the human psyche, making us feel happy and joyful. The more you connect with others, on even the smallest physical level, the happier you’ll be.”
Touch can also benefit our children’s immune system. According to scientific studies of children with life threatening illness, when cortisol levels are up, natural killer (NK) cells (the front line of the immune system) are down. These kill bacterial cells, viral cells, and even cancer cells. It can lower depression, increase levels of serotonin, dopamine, NK cells, and lymphocytes, all which suggest a stronger immune system. We need to connect with our children on a basic physical level so we can ensure they have a strong immune system, they are growing properly, sleeping well, less stressed or depressed, smarter, have positive moods, get better sleep, and to deepen the relationship.
4. Reading to your child is important and helps to create meaningful experiences with our children. Justin read to Brynleigh before she was born and she is so brilliant it is crazy so it is never too early to read to a child. Studies show that babies who are read to and talked to score higher in language skills and problem solving. We all have a big love of reading in this house. Our big kids still practice 30 minutes of reading a day even though it is not required. Reading plays a huge role in our children’s education and brain development, it strengthens our bond, and it creates a lifelong love of books. Even books on tape are great! Experts at Scholastic explained that listening is a skill children must have before they can read themselves. My mother used to play Peter Cottontail and Mother Goose nursery rhymes and I could recite them all by the age of 2 1/2.
Our children soak in practically everything in their environments like sponges. While you are reading a story, their minds are taking in all the language they hear and lessons the characters learn. I used to get a tiny bit flustered because in my head I thought we would snuggle in our big comfy recliner under a fuzzy blanket, my child in my lap captivated by the story and beautiful illustrations. In reality? They are trying to eat the book, tear out pages, or running around the room instead. But don’t worry! Your children are still getting the benefits of having you read to them. You and your child really get to connect and slow down after an otherwise hectic day (like today). We notice a big difference in nights we wind down with television or get home late from an activity (which right now is probably a baseball game) versus reading a story before bed. We try to at least do one of the 5 minute bedtime stories and make reading part of our routine – today Brynleigh thought it was hilarious to make duck noises and then we saw ducks in her Snow White story and she loved the connection. The babies are always more calm on book nights and they sleep better.
5. Music can be calming for many children and it will expand your child’s world. Singing songs and listening to music (especially classical music) helps develop a child’s logistical skills and usually enhances their science and math learning. The systems that music nourishes like our sensory, attention, cognitive, emotional, and motor capacities are the driving force behind all other learning. Young children who listen to music show different brain development and perform better on memory tests like literacy, verbal memory, visuospatial processing, mathematics, and IQ. At the Early Learning Center we played it during nap time, and I have played it for each of my babies as they slept and occasionally before they were born. When I was in college I had my first baby and we both listened to classical music every night. I performed better in college as well and I honestly attribute it to that.
The Mozart Effect is really a thing. Children who listen to teachers with music playing in the background tend to remember what they are taught for a longer time period.
It also helps improve test scores, cultivate creativity, cut learning time in half, and reduce errors made. It can assist your child in all areas: social, emotional, readiness, language, and overall literacy. Basically, children who are introduced to music excel no matter when you start playing it.
6. Play. YES, I said PLAY!!! Playing is crucial to the development and wellbeing of our children. Playing will help your child explore their senses and discover new things while playing with friends will help them to navigate relationships with others and prompts creative thinking. Play is an integral part of a child’s education and home life and teaches them valuable lessons. We all want our children to get the best education money can buy and be knowledgable in many different aspects and areas, but if they cannot creatively do something with the knowledge they possess, it is useless.
Scientists discovered that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain, unless it is done in play, in which case it only takes 10-20 repetitions.
When parents are unable to be with their young children, they typically entrust an Early Learning Center or preschool to provide the best environment and care possible. Loving professional caregivers can and will make a positive difference in the development of your child, and help them have a positive educational experience so they love “big kid school”. Those years continue to shape how we see education and feel about learning throughout life.
To help your child flourish like lima bean plant number three and become a happy healthy child who grows into a happy healthy adult, consider these things. But most of all don’t forget to spend quality time with your child so that they feel safe and their needs are met. Being respectful to children, empathizing with them, listening when they speak, and showing them kindness is not coddling or spoiling them. Children need safe environments where they can play and explore, and they need access to the tools, ideas, and people (including playmates and friends) that can help them learn and grow.