Early Experiences Matter

No matter what our theoretical background, our personal histories or our philosophies about parenting are, we should all agree on one thing – early experiences matter.
There was a time where people thought that babies brought nothing to this world, that they were a complete blank slate. Even though they thought babies would only cry, sleep, feed and poop, the importance of early experiences were limited to satisfying these basic needs. Not too long ago, and sometimes still now, picking up a crying baby was still seen as spoiling the baby and talking to an infant was seen as silly.
This week I posted on the @2tinyfeet Twitter account a series of facts about the importance of Early Childhood, published on the website of the Center on the Developing Child. As they point out, there are 5 important numbers to remember in Early Childhood.
1. 700 new neural connections per second – in the first few years of life there are 700 new neural connections happening per second. However, this only happens when a baby is exposed to new experiences. Talking to your baby, responding to his needs, a reciprocal interaction (i.e. the baby gives a signal and the parent responds) helps to build these connections. Genes interacting with the environment develop these connections and help future learning, health, and behavior.
2. As early as 18 months disparities in vocabulary are visible – children who are not exposed to language as much due to several reasons (one of them being the caregiver’s income and education) already are behind developmentally at 18 months, and disparities in development and education increase as years pass.
3. 90-100% chance of developmental delays when exposed to 6-7 risk factors in early childhood – children exposed to multiple risk factors at a young age, like homelessness, domestic violence, parental mental illness, poverty, etc., are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with developmental delays.
4. 3:1 odds of developing heart disease as an adult when exposed to 7-8 risk factors as a child – early experience can even impact adult physical health, increasing the odds of developing heart disease, obesity, diabetes, etc.
5. Every $1 spent in early childhood can return $4-$9 – with all the possible outcomes that exposure to adversity in early childhood can bring as adults, investing in prevention and promotion and early intervention can save money down the road. It will pay off, when fewer children need mental health services or special education and when there is less need for adult management of chronic diseases or social and economical government assistance.
The bottom line is early experience not only matters, as it is powerful enough to have a long-lasting effect into adulthood.
No matter what your income, your culture or education, talk to your baby! Read to your baby! Interact with your baby! Babies need interaction to learn, to feel loved and secure, and to develop those neural connections. These are the stepping-stones for a healthy development.
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