Promoting Healthy Child Development

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Children require sensitive, responsive care in order to develop in healthy ways. Sensitive care givers are emotionally available to children. They are responsive to children’s cues when, for example, children want to interact with adults or are hungry, lonely, sad, or tired. They help children to express their thoughts and feelings and soothe children when children are stressed.

Sensitive adults do not demand more from children than children are able to give. What parents and other care providers expect from children fits with children’s levels of social, emotional, sexual, and physical development.

Research has shown that children can develop well in a wide range of socio-economic and ethnic settings. It is a myth that poverty automatically means inadequate care.

Quality of care is unrelated to family income. People who do not have much money can and do provide responsive care that promotes children’s optimal development. The mental health and attentiveness of parents are the most important factors in healthy child development.

Infants are dependent upon adults for their survival. Over time, they learn to walk, talk, feed and dress themselves. Sensitive adults provide support for children’s age-appropriate activities and are effective teachers. They structure tasks so children can learn how to do them. They are respectful of the developing child’s autonomy and allow children to explore and attempt tasks without adult interference but also with adult gentle supervision and guidance.

Sensitive, responsive care givers set firm, consistent limits so that children can learn how to behave appropriately. They present children with new tasks that challenge children but that children can attain. Trust between children and care providers is the foundation for healthy development.

Adults and older children have power over children. Not only are adults bigger and stronger, they know more and their cognitive skills are more developed than those of children. In addition, social customs and tradition bestow authority on adults and older children. Children understand intuitively that they are smaller and weaker and are subject to the authority of others.

When adults are sensitive caregivers, pleasurable contact between adults and children in the forms of touching, hugging, and kissing are mutually enjoyed but do not become sexual. As children develop, they form attachments with persons who are generational equals while maintaining family ties. As children group up, almost all eventually form intimate relationships that eventually become sexual within the contexts of committed relationships.

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