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The irreplaceable value of a positive parent / primary caregiver

As we wrap up our first month of Core Concepts in Early Childhood Development, let’s recap the irreplaceable value of the parent/primary caregiver as a child’s first and most important teacher! Missed the posts? Check out our Instagram feed and look for the posts with this tagline (and don't forget to follow us for more).


When a baby opens their eyes for the first time, the world around them is big and unknown. They can see, but they do not understand the faces, images, and voices surrounding them. Slowly, with the help of their parents or caregivers, they start making sense of the world.

A child learns their first life lesson when they cry and somebody responds to make them feel better. They learn that their needs matter.

When a baby smiles or babbles and their caregiver responds with smiles and coos and little words, the baby starts to understand that a caregiver is watching and listening. This is called ‘Serve and Return’ and it is a cornerstone of healthy child development. Serve and return works like a game of tennis or volleyball between child and parent/caregiver: the child “serves” by reaching out for interaction—eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, babbling, touch—and the caregiver “returns the serve” by looking over, smiling, speaking back, playing peekaboo, or sharing a toy.

Children develop best when they have consistent, supportive, and loving adult influences throughout their lives.

When a consistent and supportive caregiver sends similar messages over and over, they help their young child understand what is happening around them and who is there to support and help them. When children realize they always have support and love, they start to feel safe in the world. When children feel safe, they will bravely explore their world and learn much faster.

Everything you and your child do together teaches important lessons that help them grow and learn about their world.

Every day, every moment children are trying to make sense of the world around them. As they get older, their world expands as well. They start meeting new people, going to new places, and seeing new things—and they rely on you to help them sort out what they are experiencing.

This is a dog

For example, when you are out for a walk and see a dog, you can support your child’s learning by pointing at the dog and saying,This is a dog. A dog says ‘ruff, ruff.’” Your child learns that this this four-legged thing is a dog, and it can talk—the way it talks might be loud and strange, but this is how dogs talk. The next time your child hears barking and sees a dog, they will recognize and understand what it is. Children under five learn fast and remember well because this is the time their brains are rapidly building connections.

This has four legs too, but is not a dog

Later on, your child might see another four-legged animal, a cow for example, and think, “this is a dog.” You take this opportunity to teach your child about more four legged animals by adding on that this is a cow, and cows say “mooo”. You have started teaching that many things have four legs, but they are different from each other, and they make different sounds.

"Why, why, why?"

Once children get older and their language skills develop, they will start asking questions. The question “why?” becomes a powerful one. Adults take the world for granted, but children do not! To them, everything is interesting because everything is new. As a parent, you want to encourage that curiosity and critical thinking. If your tone is warm and welcoming, your child will learn to come to you with any thoughts and worries because you’ve made it clear that you’re always there to listen. That is the type of relationship we want to develop with our children.

Parents don't have to know everything!

Sometimes, parents get worried if they don’t have an answer but that is okay! In fact, it creates a wonderful opportunity to start teaching your child about problem-solving. Looking for answers together will encourage your child to explore, and exploring the world, exploring people, and exploring feelings brings many discoveries.

The positive relationship you build with your child is their foundation for future social and emotional wellbeing

Think about those precious moments when you cuddle and read a book with your child or play a simple game of hide and seek or tell jokes together. All those seemingly simple things build trust and attachment between parents and children, and healthy parent-child attachment is another cornerstone of child development. Teaching your child to value person-to-person interactions is setting a template for their future relationships.

For every negative experience, a child needs four positive experiences to make up for it.

The most important part of being your child’s parent and first teacher is showing your children they are loved and lovable. When you accept your children as they are, when you show interest in what they do and what they like, they become confident and self-assured.

When you notice your child is working hard on something and praise them for it, you let them know that you are noticing and approving of what they are doing. Focusing on the process rather than a product (the end result) encourages children to try and do even more new things. Showing your delight in what you see your child doing helps them know when they are on the right path.

Make sure you find many opportunities to let your children know you like what they are doing, what they are saying, and how they are interacting with others, because small and frequent praising can change your child’s life. Their first relationships with you and their other significant caregivers will build their personality and develop the self-esteem they will carry into the future.

Next month’s core concept is “Play, the Work of Children." Learn more about how you can be your child’s best teacher and give them a leg up in the world simply by learning more about the fine art of PLAY! Sound like fun? Remember to subscribe to our e-newsletter and follow us on Facebook and/or Instagram!

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