A trip to the park. A sweet lullaby. Counting goldfish. These familiar, everyday activities might seem like just pleasant time-fillers, but did you know that they are essential to the healthy development of your young child?
The various daily activities that parents do with their children actually aid in healthy attachment, emotional development, intellectual development and social skill-building.
The foundation of healthy development in children is a secure attachment to one or more caregivers during infancy. A secure attachment forms when an infant feels safe, secure and comforted through nurturing parenting routines.
How important is this? Very. A secure attachment is essential for healthy emotional development in toddlers, and that carries over into adulthood.
Based on the quality of the attachment, we can predict into the future a child’s ability to trust others, enter into positive relationships with others and develop a positive self-worth, compassion and empathy.
According to the Nurturing Parenting curriculum we teach at LifeSteps, the critical window for emotional development is birth to 18 months. (A critical window is a period of time where the child has the greatest opportunity to develop a particular skill in life.)
Healthy emotional development gives children the foundation to regulate their emotions throughout life, productively manage stress and effectively communicate their feelings to others.
The toddler period is often called the Terrible Twos—but really, it could be called the Terrific Twos. Toddlerhood is a magical time in a child’s life, when they are becoming little explorers, learning and experiencing the world around them. This developmental period is a golden opportunity for parents to allow their children to explore, learn and experience their surroundings with safety and security.
Bonding in Action
There are plenty of fun, nurturing activities you can do with your little one to create a healthy attachment and work toward positive emotional development. Toys, games, and songs are the doorway to understanding your child and taking an active role in ensuring healthy development. The language of a child is play, and since we desire to connect with our children, we must speak their language. And remember: any time spent with your child is an opportunity for bonding through activities that promote development.
Games and Activities:
Hide and Seek. This game reinforces the notion that caregivers go away, but they always return.
What Do You See? Use a mirror to sing a song to your child, asking him what he sees while identifying feeling words and the facial features of your child.
Reach and Touch. Wearing a brightly colored scarf, lean in and out, allowing your child to reach the scarf, and then providing praise for her accomplishment.
Puppet Show. Create sock puppets that have a conversation about basic feelings and what they are.
Gentle infant massage
Cradling and rocking
Singing and smiling
Tracking activities like peek-a-boo, face to face contact or mobiles
Responding to a child’s cries promotes trust and security
Establishing a nurturing feeding and diapering routine
Summer Allen is a parent educator for the WeeCare and PADRE programs offered by LifeSteps.