The Lasting Impact of the Early Childhood Years

The early years of a child’s life are the most important as they lay the foundation for the remainder of their life. As a young child grows and matures, it is the interactions they have with the adults in their life that dictate their mental growth. Being fed, cuddled, warm and safe have a tremendous impact on the child’s future success and happiness. Positive interactions help form the stepping stones for the brain which allows for greater intelligence and a healthy mind.

Negative interactions (i.e. neglect) however can harm the development of the brain as well as emotionally scar a child. Through interactions with caregivers and parents, a child learns how to deal with disappointment, anger, frustration, and sadness. The early childhood years are some of the most critical as the child is the most vulnerable and depends on caregivers to meet their needs. If these needs are not met, harm to the development of the child will occur which causes damage to the developing brain as well as emotional immaturity and poor mental health.

  1. Basic Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs dictates that the first few years of a child’s life are centered around the basic needs being met. Being fed, warm, clothed, and safe causes the first two stages (Physiological and Safety) to be fulfilled successfully and the child feels secure. When the child has their basic needs met, they emotionally develop properly. When these basic needs are not met, the child may struggle with addiction, mental health problems or other problems in their future. Having the basic needs fulfilled in early childhood will assist in the healthy development of the child. Once these basic stages are met, the child is able to move on to the next stage of emotional development. If these needs are not met, the child will stay in the first stages until they are fulfilled.

  1. Growth of the Brain

As a child grows, their brain develops rapidly with the fastest growth spurt occurring during the first five years. As the command center of the body, the brain is the only organ not to be fully developed at birth although when born, a baby has all of the brain cells, or neurons, that they will have for the rest of their life. It is the connections between these cells that are formed as the baby develops. While their brain grows and matures, new pathways are formed which allows the child to think and move in more complex ways.

Parents and caregivers who give attention, respond and interact with their child are literally building the child’s brain. Positive interactions such as singing, laughing or talking to a baby causes these pathways to form properly whereas negative interactions such as abuse or neglect can stop these pathways from forming properly or from forming at all. The interactions the child experiences in the early years of childhood affect the growth and maturity of their brain which impacts them for the rest of their life.

  1. Social and Emotional Growth

While a baby becomes a toddler, they continue to grow socially and emotionally. Through temper tantrums, friends, discipline and other events, the child begins to understand their own emotions as well as other’s emotions. The early years impacts their ability to maintain relationships, empathize with others, cooperate, have patience and how to interact with others as well as many other important skills. Learning to problem solve, receive help, follow directions and show affection are all things that a child learns in the early years of development. These important skills are all developed by way of interactions with parents and caregivers. If these skills are not learned properly, the child will likely struggle with emotional and social development.

  1. Coping with Negative Emotions

The early years of childhood can be stressful to the child as with anything, childhood has ups and downs. With the help of an adult, a young child can learn how to manage these situations healthily. Stress, frustration, disappointment, and anger are all intense feelings which children learn to manage in their early childhood years. Learning how to cope with these negative emotions will teach the child how to manage them healthily. Without healthy emotional interactions with adults, a child may suffer from mental health problems as well as poor development emotionally.

The early years of childhood also teach self-regulation which is control of one’s own emotions. Learning how to self-regulate one’s emotions is critical in adulthood, and a person will struggle if they do not have proper development. A child may become enraged that someone took a toy from them and a parent will help them in calming down which teaches them how to self-regulate their emotions. Children also learn self-regulation by observing the adults in their life practice self-regulation.  Parents and caregivers show the child how to react to disappointment, anger, stress, and sadness which teaches them how to react when they experience these emotions.


As a child grows, their greatest teacher is their parent and caregivers. The adults in their life help form the framework of the brain which impacts them for the rest of their life. Through interactions, the child learns how to react emotionally and socially which lays the groundwork for their emotional and social development. Instances such as playing and talking create new neurons while also assisting in the development of social and emotional growth. Experiences such as war or abuse can stunt the growth of the brain as well as cause poor development socially and emotionally.

When a child’s basic needs are met, they are able to move on to the next phase of needs emotionally; although if the basic needs are not met, they may forever be scarred. By observing and learning, a child will develop a sense of security as well as social and emotional development. Parents and caregivers are the child’s first teacher, and it is through playing, talking, encouragement and support that the child is given the groundwork for a healthy, successful life.





Choose your Reaction!