The first 1000 days: We either get it or we don’t

For any child, the first 1000 days i.e. from conception to the age of three- is a critical opportunity to the precedence of a child’s development. Science is clear that during this period a child makes its first neural connections with the world. As such, stimulation of the brain from the earliest possible moment is important. Children who are sang to, read to and played with will no doubt have better cognitive development and a better chance at a more fuller and productive life.

 Nutrition also plays a significant role in the development of a child’s brain. A child’s brain consumes between 50-75% of all energy absorbed from food and good nutrition. Children who do not receive the nutrition they need suffer the risk of stunted cognitive and physical development. Yet, around the world, at least 150 million children continue to suffer from stunted growth while millions are lacking the daily nutrients to survive.

 Violence, abuse, neglect and traumatic experiences have been shown to produce cortisol-a hormone that triggers flight-or fight response to danger. High levels of cortisol thus produce stress which then limits brain connectivity in children. Protection of children from any form of abuse, violence and neglect whether at home or in the community is therefore an important part of the first 1000 days

 Environmental pollution can also limit the development of a child’s brain leading to the loss and damage of neural tissue. Globally, it is estimated that around 30 million children live in areas where the air is toxic.  Moreover, millions of children under five continue to live in areas of great deprivation.

 As a global community, when we deprive children of this once in a life time opportunity, all we are doing is further strengthening of the cycle of inequality and disadvantage to future gens. This in turn results to poor outcomes such as high unemployment rates, low wages, intergenerational poverty, increased reliance on social support ultimately weighing down the social and economic progress of nations.

  As governments, stakeholders, international organizations, private sector and civil society, we must work towards  investing in programmes that target the first 1000 days of a child that will focus on protection from abuse, proper nutrition, stimulation and learning. Children are the building blocks of our nations, they are tomorrow’s leaders and innovators; and we must provide an environment that will promote their survival and boost their productivity.


What is Child development

Information here provides parents and guardians with the knowledge and guidelines and tools to provide support, guidance and learning experiences for their child to grow and develop according to his/ her unique abilities.

 As children develop from infants to teens and finally to adults, they go through a series of developmental stages that are quite important to the person they become i.e. socially, intellectually, physically and emotionally. Your role as a parent is to provide encouragement, support and access to activities that enable the child to master developmental tasks. As a parent you are your child’s first teacher, and you should remain their best teacher throughout life.

 Child development is a process that every child goes through. This process involves learning and mastering skills such as sitting, walking, talking and playing. These skills are what we would call developmental milestones. Child development specialists have learned that from birth, children are goal directed to experiment and learn from experience. As a parent, you need to expose your child to age appropriate challenges to encourage development as well as experiences that will allow your child to learn from interacting with the environment. A parent needs to provide the necessary support for a child to allow them to safely and productively learn from the environment.

 Children develop skills in five main areas of development:

 Cognitive development

This includes the child’s ability to learn and solve problems. For example this includes a two-month old baby learning to explore the environment with eyes or a six year old learning how to solve math problems.

 Social and emotional development

 This involves a child learning how to interact with others. For example a five year old knowing how to take turns when playing, a six week old baby smiling back at you or a ten month baby waving goodbye.

Speech and language development

This is the ability of the child to both understand and use language.  For example this may include a one year old learning to say his first words or a five year old learning to say “feet” instead of “foots”.

 Fine motor skill development

This is the ability of the child to use small muscles to pick objects, hold a cup or use crayons to draw.

Gross motor skill development

 This is the ability of the child to use larger muscles. For example a six month old baby who is learning to sit up with some support or a five year old who is learning to play football.

 What is a development milestone?

A development milestone is a skill that a child acquires within a specific time frame. Learning to walk for example is a developmental milestone. Most milestones develop in a sequential way. A child will need to develop some skills before developing new skills. A child will first learn to crawl before they can walk.

 As parents and caregivers we all want our children to succeed and be the best they can be. From research we know that how your child succeeds is influenced by two factors: environment and genes.

 Genes are the genetic material we pass onto our children. The other factor that influences child development is the environment. This includes the experiences of children in the homes, schools and community environments. The environment can either harm or improve a child’s genetic blue print. For example malnourished children who live in third world countries may not reach their IQ potential because of the impact of the environment on their brain.

 Some of the ways in which we can encourage brain development in children are:

  • Interact with your child by talking, playing, singing, reading and eating together. Your child will grow up feeling special to you

  • Learn simple parenting skills for helping your child to learn how to be around others. The most important parenting skills are having consistent rules, and rewarding behaviors you want to your child do more of, and have consequences for bad behavior.

  • Ask for help when and where you need it from other parents, your spouse, family, friends or even your child’s doctor.

  • Give your child lot of attention and love. No matter the age of a child, holding, hugging and listening are important ways to show your child they matter.

  • Limit TV time and video time to no more than 1-2 hours of educational viewing per day

  • Lastly read, read and read some more. Studies show that children who are read to by their parents have a larger vocabulary than other children.

However, when in doubt or have questions, do not hesitate to talk to a professional like your child’s doctor, a nurse, or a trained child development specialist. There is always someone in your community you can talk to.

What to do when worried about abuse of a child?

As parents and caregivers, we will often come across children who show signs of either abuse and/or neglect. Remember, you can always do something. In todays article I share on some 5 steps that you can take should you ever find yourself worried about the safety of a child.

 1. Take your gut feeling seriously.

 If you are worried about a child, it is very important that you do something about it. Quite often we think that somebody else will notice the same thing we did, but this is not always the case. It is better that several people are concerned about a child, than not having anybody concerned at all.

Think about the  traffic sign rule.

 At the red light, we have children who need immediate help either from either the children’s department service in your county or any helping agencies that you may know of. If you are quite concerned about the situation in which the child finds himself/ herself, it is important that you take immediate action with the relevant agencies.

 At the yellow light, we have children whom you are unsure of how they are doing and children you have a gut feeling about. You must take your gut feeling seriously and try to do something.

 At the green light, we have children who are doing very well, and there are no concerns.

 2. Affirm the child that you see them, with words and affection.

 To be seen and affirmed by adults, means a lot for all children, especially for children who receive little attention at home. Whether you are well acquinted  with the child or not, warm words and kind affection will mean the world to children

 (Tips on how you can affirm a child with words).

  •  Say Hi, ask the child what their name is, ask open and interesting questions about everyday things.
  • Say something nice about the child’s behaviour, hairstyle, or anything else that feels natural.
  • Use the name of the child.
  • Be interested about what the child is telling you.
  • Show that you are happy to see the child again the next time you meet them.
  • Follow up what you talked about the last time, showing that you care about the child and the   conversation.
  • Share something about yourself that will help the child to know you better.

3.Affirm the child that you see them, with actions.

Decide on what you can invite the child to. Being part of something fun and nice can mean so much for children who are facing difficulties at home. Choose situations that are natural to you and your family but do not overdo it( NB: Important to explain to your own children why you are inviting another child to your space, and explain to them why it is important to include the new child)

 (Tips on 6 concrete things you can do for a child).

  •  Invite the child to ride home with you after school, or a sports event.
  • Invite the child to family activities such as movies, or weekend outings
  • Ask if the  child is participating in any neighborhood activities, if not invite them if they want to.
  • Ask if you can help with homework, making dinner or something else they can do after school.
  • Find an activity you like and invite several children, or find a project where you can invite several   people in your neighborhood.

4. If your gut feeling that something is wrong, is getting stronger, seek help.

Be a good listener. If your gut feeling keeps getting stronger as you get to interact the child, you should let the child know that it is safe for them to share with you what they are going through.

 (Tips on what you can say to a child to help them open up to you).

  • You do not look happy, is  there anything making you sad?
  • Is everything at home okay? You haven’t told me much about your parents
  • You have been tired of late, is there something bothering you?
  • I want you to know that you can tell me anything. I can handle what you will tell me eve when you think it is difficult.
  • I want you to know that i care about you. I hope you know that i am here for you if you need anyone to talk to.

Remember, should the child open up to you, it is important that you listen to them without judging.  Children often feel ashamed over their situation. They maybe worried that their parents will get into trouble, or they will be taken away from their parents. Do not say anything painful about their parents regardless of what the child shares with you. Show respect. Listen empathetically.

(Tips on what you can say to a child who shares about a difficult situation at home)

  • I understand that this is difficult for you..
  • I am glad that you shared this with me, you have me to share the burden with..
  • You are a wonderful girl/ boy and none of this is your fault..
  • I am sure your parents would wish to have done things differently, sometimes it is not easy to be an adult..
  • Do you want your mom/ dad to get help?..
  • What kind of help are you seeking?..
  • Is it okay for me to talk to someone else about this?..

 If you are unsure of what is the right thing to do, and need help to analyze the situation, it is wise to:

  • Talk to someone you trust, a neighbor, or another parent .
  • Talk to the school teachers, children’s department or other persons who know the child well enough.

 5. Know that you are making a difference. Know that, remember that, and do it!

The best feeling anyone can experience, is that a child you are concerned about is doing okay! Most children, fortunately  come from good homes, and perhaps this is also true for the child you were concerned about. It’s a good discovery! Finding out that there was nothing to be concerned about is gratifying – and your main task as an adult is not to be right, but to investigate further when you feel concerned about children.

Why Child Protection


The convention on the rights of the child (1989) outlines the fundamental rights of children, including the right to be protected from economic exploitation and harmful work, from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, and from physical or mental violence, as well as ensuring that children will not be separated from their family against their will. These rights are further refined by two Optional Protocols, one on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the other on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

 A family is the first space for protection of children. Parents and caregivers need to build and create a a protective and loving home environment for children. The community is also responsible for building a safe and child friendly environment outside of the home. Children need protection so they can fully grow and develop to their fullest potential.

 The term Child protection refers to preventing and responding to violence, exploitation and abuse against children. This includes trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, child labour, harmful cultural practices such as early marriages and female genital mutilation. Child protection programmes aim at helping children who are vulnerable to these abuses especially where there is lack of parental care, during armed conflict and when children are in conflict with the law. Children need to be protected so that they can survive, grow, learn and develop to their fullest potential.

 Violations of children rights are evident in many countries and these cases are many, often under-recognized and under-reported. Needless to say these instances are a barrier to a child’s survival and development. Children subjected to exploitation, abuse, negligence and violence are at a risk for death, HIV/AIDS infection, Poor physical and mental health, displacement, educational problems, vagrancy and poor parenting and coping skills later in life.

 Building a protective environment for children that prevents and responds to violence, exploitation and abuse involves these components: Promoting, establishing and  enforcing of legislation; strengthening government commitment and capacity to protect children; open discussion of child protection issues that includes civil society and media; addressing harmful customs, practices and attitudes; building capacity for families and communities; provision of adequate and essential services for prevention, recovery and reintegration including basic education, health and protection ; developing children’s life skills, own participation and knowledge.; and establishing and implementing on-going and effective monitoring, reporting and oversight.

 Millions of children are facing violence, abuse, negligence and discrimination every day. These violations limit their chances of survival and the opportunity to follow and pursue their dreams. All children should be encouraged to speak up for the rights of children and to also take an active role in their own protection against abuse, exploitation, violence and discrimination.