Your child's first and most important teacher is ... YOU!
Maybe you’re looking down at your first newborn in your arms or maybe you’re sending your third child off to kindergarten. In either case you may be thinking “Am I doing enough?” Science shows that the most crucial relationships in a person's life are those with their “primary caregivers,” whether that’s mom, dad, grandma, uncle, or nanny. The people a child spends the most time with in their early years will undeniably shape the person they become as they grow. So how can we make sure that we’re having a positive effect?
Serve and Return
“Serve and Return” is the conversational tennis match between two or more people and it is the driving force in healthy brain development. When a baby cries and their caregiver picks them up, they learn that they can affect the world around them, that they have a voice, and that the people that they love and rely on are listening! Serve and return doesn’t mean agreeing or giving your child everything they ask for. It just means letting them know that you hear and understand them. It may seem incredibly simple, and that’s because it is. The simple act of acknowledging and responding to your child’s bids for attention actually makes their brain stronger!
It may be cliché, but “monkey see, monkey do” is a well-documented phenomenon in child behaviour. Though our children are listening to what we tell them to do, they are much more likely to copy ways of being, thinking, and problem-solving that they get to witness first hand. Trying to get your toddler to stay seated at the dinner table? Make a point to sit down and enjoy the meal yourself. Preschooler tosses their jacket, shoes and backpack across the living room on the way in from daycare? Take a moment to notice where your coat and bag ended up.
Children and adults are shaped by their attachments to other people. A strong secure attachment for a newborn looks like being responded to quickly when upset, having diapers changed and feedings regularly, and having an emotionally open and supportive caregiver. For a preschooler, it may look like a parent waiting at the bus stop, a snack packed for later, or a genuine curiosity about their day. For an adult, it may be trusting that your partner will pick up dinner on the way home or counting on a friend to carpool to work. We all need each other in different ways as we age. The ways that we express affection and care towards our children will be translated into how they give and receive those things in all areas of their lives.
The truth about the early years is that our children have a lot to learn about their world every single day! Let the ABCs and 123s come a little later, because it is you that is teaching them about how to think and feel in the world around them. A child’s first and most important teacher is YOU!