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.