By Godwin Okafor
A mother’s breast milk provides babies with antibodies, which help to keep off the risk of illness for the first three months.
Health experts say early introduction of other liquids and solids if prepared in unhygienic conditions increase the likelihood of infection, often resulting in potentially life threatening conditions like diarrhoea. Exclusive breast feeding in the first six months of life is enough to support the growth and development of babies and this should be complemented with high quality foods until about 24 months of age to sustain the rate of growth. Adequate care and nutrition lay a solid foundation for proper early childhood development. This is because proper nutrition aids brain growth necessary for intellectual, cognitive as well as psycho-motor development in the child. The home serves as the take-off point for this development.
The child who is usually helpless depends on maternal stimulation for the development of proper physical and physiological functioning. This includes toileting, feeding and bathing.
The mother is the first important person in a baby’s world. How she behaves to the child is crucial in establishing a feeling of comfort and security. “Insufficiency of maternal care is detrimental to development during the early years as the child grows. It is the responsibility of both parents to lead children through the early years, providing them with adequate nutrition, stimulation, good values, and good health habits. It is also parental role to teach children the language of their immediate environment. They should help children to communicate with the family and with their peers”.
Children learn at different times. Often by the time a child is twelve months, he or she can pronounce a few words, and by the time the child is five or six years, he/she can communicate very well. It is the duty of parents and the home to ensure languages development, especially in the early years while the school reinforces it.
A necessity for early childhood care and development; ignorance, in law, they say is not an admissible excuse. Thus, ignorance on the part of parents in the upbringing of their children is unacceptable, as it may affect children’s growth and development negatively. This by some authors which say that, “where there is ignorance of the needs of the child at the different stages of development, there is bound to occur practices which are detrimental to the child’s personality development”.
Times are changing and parents should be dynamic enough to move according to the times. Time was when a child was taken care of by a whole community. That time is gone. A child is now for the most part of early childhood, left in the care of parents who must be knowledgeable enough to handle them. Parents therefore should acquire the right methods of child upbringing, whether traditional or modern. Parents should be made to understand that harshness to children often breeds delinquency and thick skin which may manifest later in the lives of these children.
The idea of not “sparing the rod” so as not to “spoil the child” should be exercised with caution and it “may prove too harsh and disastrous for the child’s moral and other aspects of personality development.” Parents therefore should learn to tow the middle course with respect to their children.
They should learn to direct the lives of their children towards positive development. They should learn to inculcate in their children the correct attitude towards moral and ethical values. This will help them to have the required discipline for living in a society like ours. Parents are indispensable in early childhood development because this stage of development affects the later stages depending on how they are brought up by parents. So, early childhood development sets the tone for adult living.
IMPLICATIONS ON CHILD HEALTH
The family is the first point of call of a child. Here, the child experiences the first social interactions, learns his or her first language and develops relevant attitudes to life. The implication therefore is that the child is first a product of his or her family and how the child relates to the larger society depends on the experiences available to him or her in the family.
Parents being the closest allies in early childhood, it is important that for positive and meaningful development of the child, parents must be properly “schooled” and experienced in the art of child upbringing.
Parents must love each other as their love will naturally spill over to their children. Children brought up in the atmosphere of love are usually well-adjusted children. Parents should endeavour to give children early start in life, so that they can measure up to their peers when they leave the environment of home. Parents should ensure that children are brought up in a peaceful and conducive environment devoid of conflict as it will reflect in the lives of these children. They should also provide adequate nutrition for the children for their proper development.
It is also important that pregnant and nursing mothers should get proper medical care and good balanced diet for their sake and that of their babies. This will help ensure proper growth and development of the child right from the womb. It is important that the father should not leave child care and development totally to the mother. They should complement each other’s efforts and work in an atmosphere of love and peace in the upbringing of their children. Both parents must therefore be exposed to parental education in order to ensure holistic development of their children.
In early childhood development, parental role is very crucial as the family is the first member of the society a child ever knows. A child being a product of a family therefore represents the values, morals and ethics of that family. The level of development a child manifests in later life, reflects the type of home background, experiences, exposure and training, a child gets in early years. It is suggested that parents should be knowledgeable in the matters that affect children.
They should ensure that their children get the best from home which would put them in very good stead for the rest of their lives, considering that early years are critical in childhood development.