The Critical Infant Years
Astonishing research has shown for some time the importance of the first few years, even days, in a child’s development as the most important factor shaping his or her personality.
This research has shown mainly how the brain wires itself in the first five years of life for vocabulary, language, math and logic. Evidence shows how critical are the brain connections formed before birth. At birth, the brain starts with only a handful of neurological connections and reaches trillions by age 3, scientists say. According to brain research done at the Children’s Hospital in Michigan, until age 10, children’s brains show almost twice the activity of an adult brain. Since these findings, parents have been urged to take advantage of this age—this window of opportunity—to ensure their children are getting their prime education in the prime time of their development.
Perhaps even more interesting, in addition to developing connections for math, logic, language, etc., the child’s ability to form a lasting attachment to another human being—that is, the capacity to love—is learned before age 3. Infant psychologist Selma Fraiberg wrote,”We have learned that the human qualities…to love are forged during the first two years of life” (Every Child’s Birthright: In Defense of Mothering). This research even shows the importance of a child’s social and emotional development during these formative years.
If ever science gave us good reason to spend more time with our own children, this is it. But it seems some are missing the point. This research has merely stirred parents to find the best daycare for their children.
Realize this:Human babies are helpless. They must rely on the parents for everything! Whereas a baby calf, when it is born, can—by instinct—begin walking within minutes and find its first meal, a human baby must be taught everything. Left to himself, he would starve to death, even if only inches away from his mother. He knows nothing. He is born needing attention and care in every way. He is also born emotionally unstable. He must be taught, throughout the beginning years of his life, how to be emotionally stable. This comes only from proper discipline implemented through the utmost love—from the parents.
Between the ages of 6 months and 2 years, special brain scans called PETscans show increased activity in the frontal cortex (the area which dominates emotions and complex thoughts). Yet, most children who enter the current daycare system do so by around 6 months of age, according to a study done last year by the Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The parents of daycare children are missing out on cultivating their own children’s emotional stability.
Developmental psychologist J.C. Schwarz and his team found that “3- and 4-year-olds who had been in daycare since the early months of life were more physically and verbally abusive with adults and peers than their home-reared counterparts” (www.cwfa.org).
One study found that “by depriving infants and children of physical love, parents will produce adults who are gravely limited in their ability to relate to others—or who are even predisposed to violent or criminal behavior”(Plain Truth, Nov./Dec. 1984; emphasis mine).
Yes, that was printed over 15 years ago. But the warning it gave rings true. For the very children who have committed recent atrocious acts of violence in the schools of middle-class suburbia were infants when that article was published!
Dr. Stanley I. Greenspan writes in The Irreducible Needs of Infants and Children:”Warm relationships lasting years, not weeks or months, are essential for our capacities to love, form friendships, participate in group and communities, and eventually govern ourselves” (p. 2).
Emotional development begins even before 6 months of age, according to a study published in the fall/winter 1999 issue of Lamaze Parents. Attachments are made even within the first few minutes of life. Current studies indicate that newborns should be placed on the mother’s body immediately after birth, to make the transition from the womb easier.
In an article in the News&Observer of February 16, 1997, a daycare center responded to some of this research on children’s emotional development by changing their curriculum—keeping the teachers with the children over a longer period of time. “Why rip them apart at the height of their social and emotional attachment?” center director Debby Cryer asked. “What are our priorities?”
A better question would be, what are the parents’ priorities? These studies should be causing the parents to change their child rearing habits, not just daycare facilities. “At the end of a long morning,” the article continues, “[a] 5-month-old…coos in the arms of her teacher…. At this time next year, the two of them will be working together in the toddler class. The emotional bond—as well as any underlying neurological connections—will remain intact.”
Although this child is seemingly having her emotional education and needs met, she is missing it from mom and dad. On the whole, there is a natural bond that occurs between child and parent. The fact that two people have created, from themselves, another human being and watched and felt it develop in the womb creates a bond that only the parents can have.
It is the parents who must teach emotional stability to their children. It is the parents who must bring them up in an environment of love and discipline.
British psychiatrist John Bowlby, well known for his research on infant attachment, stated that the attachment a young child forges with his mother “forms the foundation stone of personality…. The young child’s hunger for his mother’s presence is as great as his hunger for food,” and “her absence inevitably generates a powerful sense of loss and anger.”
Stanford University psychologist Byrna Siegal states, “Children who are growing up without a close maternal bond will someday engage in fewer marriages and incur more divorces.”
How important these few years are: to turn children into emotionally stable, responsible and socially mature adults with the right view of love and family; to prepare them for strong friendships, marriages, families, communities; to save them from the heartache of divorce, loneliness and even violence. Although daycare is striving to improve—learning better how to teach and bond with young people, however admirable—they can never replace what parents were intended to do: to care for their own offspring during the most crucial years of life!