The Early Years

Parenting is not for the faint of heart.  As a new parent, you are probably filled with hopeful anticipation and joy, but also normal parental anxiety too.  Will he be healthy?  Will she make friends? Will he like school? Will she be happy?  Are these behaviours normal?  Are we doing the right thing??  It can feel overwhelming at times.

A little worry is a good thing!  It’s normal and natural for parents to want the best for their child.  As uncomfortable as these worries might be, they motivate us to support our young children to one day be independent and resilient adults.  So, what can you do to grow your young child’s social and emotional well-being?  Well, it depends in part on their stage of development.  Here are some ideas for the early years.

Infancy

So much growth occurs in the first couple of years of an infant’s life!  In the first few months, infants go from gazing at your face and responding to your touch, to smiling when you talk to them and letting you know what kind of pureed food they prefer with their facial expressions.  By 6 months of age, they are able to establish routines, such as sleeping and eating.  Over the first year, your bond with your infant has strengthened even more.  She knows you are her safe person, and she will “make strange” when someone unfamiliar tries to hold her.  Your baby will pick up on your social cues, such as your eye gaze and your behaviour, to mimic you, to look where you are looking, and to learn how to respond to the world around her.  Her language and her nonverbal communication – including eye contact, pointing, and facial expression – all flourish to support how she interacts with his world.

Here’s what you can do to foster your baby’s social and emotional well-being. 

  • Soothe your baby when she is crying with your soft voice and gentle touch. She needs your reassurance.
  • Hold and play with your baby. This very simple social interaction lays the groundwork for future social skill development.
  • Talk to your baby throughout the day. Although he may not begin talking until much later, infants begin to understand language as young as a few months of age.  When you talk to your baby, you are strengthening his vocabulary development.
  • Sing to your baby.
  • Read board books and nursery rhymes to your baby. These books often have fun textures that babies can interact with as they listen to your voice.

 

Toddlerhood

During the toddler years, ages 2-3, expect your child to show greater independence.  Now that you have established a secure bond with your baby, he will be ready to explore the world!  Toddlers begin to interact more with their environment and with other children than they did in the first year when you were their whole world.  Their language begins to flourish, and so does their creative and imaginative play.  They start to have small conversations with their peers and with you.  They start to bring toys and objects to you to show you what they are interested in, share toys with other young friends, to learn to take turns and to use language to let you know what they want and to ask questions to learn about their world.

Here’s what you can do to foster your preschooler’s social and emotional well-being. 

  • Provide guidance for social interactions. Demonstrate and directly instruct them on how to take turns, and to share while they are playing.
  • Teach and model how to use social language to make requests and to solve disagreements with other children.
  • Teach and model how to calm and self-soothe when they are upset
  • Set firm limits. It’s okay to say “no” or “not now” – and follow up with an explanation.
  • Encourage exploration. This develops curiosity, discovery and self-reliance
  • Allow them to make mistakes and to face obstacles. Children need to learn that they can overcome obstacles and to learn from their mistakes.
  • Identify, label and empathize with their emotions
  • Provide a wide array of social experiences
  • Continue to provide a language rich environment – through talking about books and movies, singing songs, and conversations at the dinner table.

It’s important to remember that these are general guidelines.  Each child will develop at his/her own rate. “Normal” development is a range and it is normal for children to differ from each other for a variety of reasons.  Beware of comparing your child to other children or your older children.

And don’t forget to take care of yourself!  Set personal boundaries for yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from others – you don’t have to do this alone.  And when hearing advice and recommendations from family, friends, coworkers and social media, be sure to consider the source and reach out to the experts who can provide objective, science-based information.  Most of all, enjoy your time with your child.

If you are concerned that your baby is not developing as she should, don’t hesitate to voice these concerns to your physician who may refer you to a licensed specialist such as a pediatrician, a speech and language pathologist, an occupational therapist or a psychologist who has expertise in child development.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 in which I’ll discuss how to support the social and emotional well-being of your child through their tween and teen years.

About Dr. Anita Burhanpurkar

Registered with the College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO) since 2003, Dr. Anita Burhanpurkar is licensed by the College of Psychologists of Ontario to work with children, adolescents and families. She sees families for psychological assessment, counselling and parenting consultations in her private practice, Hummingbird Psychology, in Milton Ontario, and has over 20 years of experience working with educators and school support staff at the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.