Wednesday, December 05, 2007

We Are Our Children's First Teachers

The importance of parents being their children’s first teacher really struck home for me yesterday. My twins and I were playing at the park when I started talking to an older woman who was accompanied by a two-year-old girl. The woman told me she was staying with the girls’ family for a few months and had accompanied the little girl, with her mother, to her two-year doctor’s examination. The doctor asked the girl’s mother if the little girl could identify her nose, ears, eyes, and so on. Of course, she can do that, I immediately thought to myself when I heard that. Isn’t “Where’s your nose?” one of the first games that all parents play with their babies? Well, to my surprise, the woman told me that the girl couldn’t do any of that! Her parents never played with her. In fact, said the woman, they usually stuck her on the couch with the remote control in her hands and let her watch TV for hours at a time! I was in shock. It got worse…this little girl, who lived within walking distance of the very park we were in, had never been taken there by her parents before. It was her first trip there that day with her parents’ friend. I was so saddened and appalled by these parents’ lack of interest in their child. I wasn’t sure whether it was deliberate or just naïve on their parts that they should be interacting with their child, but either way I grieved the damage being done to that beautiful little girl.

Holly Engel-Smothers, a parent educator and early-childhood consultant, told me, “Baby development is a long-term building event, with each day being important in how the baby develops the next day, and each event being important in how the baby develops for the next event. Appropriate food, comfort, face-to-face interactions, tummy time, music, and even the lilt of Mommy’s voice are all brain developers. It is not a random happening when a milestone is reached. Just like an athlete has to practice his sport in a certain order to build up to the main event, so do babies have to take ‘baby steps’ toward optimal brain development, which is created and driven by experiences with Mommy, Daddy, and caregivers. These people play a critical role in baby’s life because milestones need personal experiences to be reached.”

The woman at the park told me that the little girl never interacted with other children. Her mother took her shopping for hours on end, but then didn’t understand when the child didn’t behave after a while. I couldn’t help but wonder what the future holds for this child. As Holly stresses, “Parents play a vital role in their children’s development.” We are their first teachers, and our actions in the first few years strongly influence their future success—physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s a shame that this little girl’s parents don’t understand how blessed they are to be given this awesome responsibility for another human being, as well as the amazing opportunity to play a hand in creating something wonderful.

Raising great kids begins the day that they are born. But, Holly points out, “Love isn’t all a baby needs. It is an excellent start, but there’s so much more you can give your baby.” Time, affection, play and attention are also crucial at all stages of our children’s lives.

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