Optimizing the early years of a child’s health can be the best investment you can make in your child’s future. Early childhood is a time of rapid development that is critical to their life long well being. Between birth and age three a child typically doubles in height and weight and their brain along with their social and emotional functioning are being developed and shaped more and more each day. Research shows that a young child’s health needs are tightly intertwined with learning, school readiness, and long-term school success. About 250 million children under the age of 5 are at risk of not reaching their full potential. The steps parents take to ensure the physical, mental, and social emotional health of their child is taken care of, is vitally important to their long-term health.
What can parents do to get their little ones off to a great start?
The first step is to start developing healthy habits as early as possible. Receiving adequate prenatal care is key to starting down the right path for your child’s health and development. Ensuring the intake of adequate nutrition and key vitamins is essential to ensure good health of a rapidly developing fetus. Women who receive prenatal care are more likely to carry a baby to full term and deliver with a healthy birth weight. Inadequate nutrition during pregnancy is associated with many undesirable health outcomes including obesity in childhood and adulthood and a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension.
Children’s early learning experiences and the bonds they form with their caregivers deeply affect their cognitive, emotional, and social development. Responding to an infants cry for food or comfort, adhering to a toddlers request to actively play with their caregiver, encouraging a toddlers budding curiosity and independence, are all examples of how to build secure attachments that lay the groundwork for the development of a child’s basic health processes such as self regulation, attention, and overall social and emotional functioning. From the moment children are born they use all of their senses to connect with their environment and they begin to develop a sense of cause and effect from their actions and responses of their caregivers.
Promoting healthy habits in children at a young age can establish routines that lead to healthier choices through out life. Caregivers can help young children develop healthy behaviors by encouraging healthy habits early on such as, the importance of regular physical activity, a healthy balance of television and screen time, the use of car seat restraints, good oral hygiene, and healthy food choices. Establishing these habits early on will help to ensure that they last a lifetime.
Receiving adequate prenatal care, attending to your child’s social and emotional needs, and promoting healthy behaviors are not only beneficial to ensuring the health of your child, but will also put your child at a greater chance of reaching their full potential. Today’s children are our future; they will become our teachers, doctors, tradesmen, and future leaders. Their ability to thrive in adulthood is determined by how well they thrive in early childhood. Studies have shown that providing better health and learning opportunities to children increase adult earning and reduces poverty. Taking stock in our children’s health is the best investment you can make for their future.