From The Urban Child Institute:

We have talked and written about the importance of healthy brain development for about a decade, and we were often the lone voice on this subject in our community. However, these days, articles about brains are everywhere – National Geographic, Time magazine, Psychology Today, and the New York Times, to name just a few recent examples.

Suddenly, everyone is talking about brain development and the breakthrough research that is teaching us more and more about how the brain works. Much that we are learning is new and revolutionary, but there is one recurring theme: the importance of optimal development of the brain between conception and three years old.

Social and Emotional Development Begins at Birth

New and emerging research on the social and emotional development of our youngest children is teaching us that how children feel and behave is just as important as what they know and think. That’s because social and emotional development is a basic part of a child’s overall health and well-being, affecting everything from how he interacts with others to how he handles conflict and stress.

Social and emotional development in the first three years of life is an opportunity that cannot be wasted (Tweet this!). It lays a foundation that prepares children to be self-confident, curious, friendly, compassionate, and able to express emotions appropriately. The first bricks of this foundation are beginning to be laid on the day a child is born, and in the first three years, the greatest gift any child can receive is a positive and nurturing relationship with his parents or primary caregivers.

These relationships become the framework for how an infant or toddler feels about himself, how he thinks and interacts with his world, and what he expects from others. An infant’s attempts to create physical and emotional closeness, and the caregiver’s reaction to these attempts, teach him important lessons about how to engage with others.

School Readiness Relies on Social and Emotional Skills

All of us know that infants and toddlers need plenty of care and attention in the first three years of their lives. Babies whose needs are addressed by a sensitive caregiver tend to develop strong bonds of attachment and trust and develop into emotionally secure children.

Conversations about the value of Pre-K regularly focus on academics and overlook the social and emotional benefits, although they are equally important. In fact, many teachers consider social and emotional skills more important for school readiness than knowing letters and numbers.

Ultimately we do not have to make a choice, because children are developing rapidly in both areas in the first three years of life, and one area influences the other.

Social and Emotional Well-being also has Lifelong Benefits

The relationship between cognitive skills and social and emotional skills is especially obvious when it comes to school readiness. A child who arrives for his first day of kindergarten able to cooperate, follow directions, ask for help, and get along with others is ready to focus his attention on learning, exploration, and inquisitiveness. A child whose early experiences have not equipped him with these skills is likely to struggle with learning and begin a pattern that can continue as he grows older.

Parents often ask us what matters most in the raising of their young children. Our answer: Everything.

Touching, talking, reading, and playing with babies are not just ways to occupy time or entertain them. They are the building blocks of social and emotional development that can have lifelong positive consequences for our children and our community.