Many feel that the first few years of life are just sort of routine and that the child will more or less automatically pass through certain “stages,” and that what happens during those first years will not affect his later life very much. They could hardly be more wrong.
To the exact contrary of such idea those early years are precious, vital, critical, and should not be wasted by parents. Is this practical? Is it realistic?
It most certainly is. Granted, a newborn baby can breathe, digest food, feel, cry, yawn and sleep.
Already in a few days or weeks impressions are being made on its mind. Its intelligence is already beginning to function.
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes parents may make is to underestimate the intelligence of children during these early years.
At birth a child’s brain is only one fourth the weight it will be in adulthood. But did you know that in just two years the brain grows so rapidly that it reaches three fourths of its adult weight?
The child’s intelligence is growing too. Researchers believe that a child’s intelligence grows as much during its first four years as during the next thirteen.
Some say that “the concepts the child learns before his fifth birthday are among the most difficult he'll ever encounter.”
One of these concepts learned is language, which another source rates as “probably the most difficult intellectual accomplishment a human being is ever called upon to perform.”
If you doubt that, just try learning a new language. In a short time you will realize what a marvelous intellectual feat your baby accomplishes when it learns to speak.
And remember—when you take up the study of a new language, you already know one language and you know how language works.
Your baby does not. Think, too, of children whose parents are of different nationalities, or who live in bilingual areas.
Often at the age of only four or five years, these children converse in, not one, but two languages with ease, and frequently without an accent!
Obviously the intelligence is there. Little children have an amazing capacity for learning—but that ability needs use, development and guidance. It needs your help; so much depends on you.
Most parents are rightfully concerned with their child’s mind and its intellectual development.
However, you ought to be far more concerned with your child’s figurative heart and the heart’s development in providing right motivation. Why?
Already in that first year habits begin to form.
During that year a child begins to show its willingness—or lack of willingness—to respond to adult demands.
Obedience, we know, is perhaps the most basic of all requirements for a successful life. It can mean the difference between life and death.
How important, then, to begin molding your child from birth onward.
According studies the major portion of the individual’s personality is established before the onset of school.
It is, of course, common knowledge that preschool children are extremely impressionable and malleable.
It has been discovered that what children encounter in their childhood in terms of attitudes and experiences often establishes lasting, and sometimes immutable, behavioral patterns.
Does this mean that after five years of age such patterns cannot be changed? “No,” says another researcher:
The child remains quite malleable during his first seven years, but the longer you wait, the more radically you need to change his environment—and the probability of change becomes a little less with each successive year.”
Not all parents appreciate this fact. In the many countries now many preschool-age children have parents that work outside the home.
Perhaps some parents are forced to do this. But many evidently assume that there is little they could teach their children during those early years anyway. What a tragic error!
The environment you provide your child during those early years plays a very large part in the molding process.
It is not just the house you live in, but the kind of home you make of that house.
Is it clean, neat, orderly? Is it a peaceful home, free from quarreling, shouting, anger? Are you parents respectful to each other?
If not, can you reasonably expect your little child to be different and show respect to you?
Do you parents admit mistakes? If a child never hears his father or mother express humility, how can humility become his standard?
There is this danger too: If the parents give the idea that they are never wrong, the child may feel that he can safely do whatever they do and it will always be right.
If the parents tell what they might view as “little” lies, perhaps to a neighbor or a bill collector, the child will feel that he can tell “little” lies of his own.
And if parents do not agree on matters of child discipline, or if they are always uttering warnings but seldom fulfilling them, the child will quickly observe this and his respect for the rules they set will rapidly weaken.
Never doubt it—these things make strong, almost indelible impressions on a youngster’s tender mind.
The child’s natural innocence and inborn sense of honesty and fairness will inevitably receive blows as life goes along. But, please—see that those blows do not come from you.
Vital as it is, however, example is not enough. The child needs to know why his parents hold to the standards they do and why they require him to hold to the same discipline.
Think of what you gain by taking the time to instruct your children in the right way.
Without this, little children may feel that this matter of obedience is just a case of their parents saying, in so many words:
Look, we were here first and we're bigger and stronger than you are, so what we say goes!"
Another way to irritate a child is to deny it the attention children naturally crave, on which they thrive from babyhood on.
Is it not true that, if you show some interest in a baby, soon that little mouth opens up in a wide grin (perhaps with a solitary tooth showing), while some simple act of attention from its father or mother can produce chuckles or chortles of glee?
Older children, too, hunger for their parents interest in them. They may even misbehave as a means of getting it.
Yes, one of the finest gifts you parents can give your children of any age is some of your time, your personal attention and interest.
Just telling them or reproving them is not enough; such discipline by itself can bring irritation.
The child wants and needs you to sit down with him, take the time to explain the ‘whys’ and ‘wherefores,’ not just the ‘dos’ and ‘ don'ts.’
See that they get that help, because it is the loving thing to do.
Of course, once little children learn to talk they seem to become question factories with mass production.
But, remember, questions are one of the most powerful tools for learning that little children have.
If a child’s questions are shunted to one side, or fall on deaf ears, he may eventually stop asking them.
But in doing this, parents risk having the lines of communication begin to break down. Again, what your children want and need is some of your time.
With that in view, encourage their questions. Encourage them to express themselves. Draw them out, find out how they think, how they feel about things, what is in their hearts.
Remember, children like to be involved. Without that involvement a child’s interest quickly fades. These questions will help to maintain that interest if you stop and allow your child to express himself.
But, more importantly, the questions will help you to learn what is on your child’s mind and in his heart.
To reach the heart, make spending time with you pleasurable, not an ordeal. Small children are not able to concentrate for long periods of time.
Even in games, they quickly tire of one game and seek another, though they may soon be back at the one they just left.
By nature, infants shift interest frequently; after a while their little minds sort of shut off and turn elsewhere.
When they reach that point, there is little accomplished by trying to force interest. Do not worry if your child does not get all the points the first time. Those points can be emphasized on other occasions.
Little children have an innocence that is charming, endearing, delightful. But that does not last forever, does it? It fades and the child’s life goes on. What will replace that childish innocence?
You can aid your child by helping them instill the right values, not only to be clean and neat, but also to be respectful toward all, considerate, kind, helpful to others.
These are qualities that are far more endearing than mere childishness.