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Parenting -- Child development: the first five years (1)

Key points

  • Development is how your child grows physically and emotionally and learns to communicate, think and socialise.

  • Children’s early experiences and relationships in the first five years of life are critical for development.

  • In the early years, your child’s main way of learning and developing is through play.

  • Other influences on development include genes, nutrition, physical activity, health and community.


About early child development

‘Development’ means changes in your child’s physical growth. It’s also the changes in your child’s social, emotional, behaviour, thinking and communication skills. All of these areas of development are linked, and each depends on and influences the others.

In the first five years of life, experiences and relationships stimulate children’s development, creating millions of connections in their brains. In fact children’s brains develop connections faster in the first five years than at any other time in their lives. This is the time when the foundations for learning, health and behaviour throughout life are laid down.


* Babies are born ready to learn, and their brains develop through use. Stimulating and caring environments with lots of different activities give children plenty of ways to play, develop and learn, and lots of chances to practise what they’re learning.


Relationships: the foundation of child development

Children’s relationships affect all areas and stages of their development. In fact, relationships are the foundation of child development.

Through relationships, your child learns vital information about their world. For example, your child learns whether the world is safe and secure, whether they’re loved, who loves them, what happens when they cry or laugh, and much more.

Your child also learns by seeing relationships among other people – for example, by seeing how you behave with other family members. This learning is the foundation for the development of your child’s communication, behaviour, social and other skills.


* Play is a great relationship builder. Playing with your child sends a simple message – you’re important to me. This message helps children learn about who they are and where they fit in the world.


Ref: Davies, D. (2011). Child development: A practitioner’s guide (3rd edn). New York: The Guildford Press.

Ford, A.L.B., Elmquist, M., Merbler, A.M., Kriese, A., Will, K.K., & McConnell, S.R. (2020). Toward an ecobehavioral model of early language development. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 50, 246-258. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2018.11.004.

Fox, S., Levitt, P., & Nelson, C. (2010). How the timing and quality of early experiences influence the development of brain architecture. Child Development, 81(1), 28-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01380.x.

Mattei, D., & Pietrobelli, A. (2019). Micronutrients and brain development. Current Nutrition Reports, 8(2), 99-107. doi: 10.1007/s13668-019-0268-z.

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