A child’s mind is shaped before age two, with the eight-month period from 10-18 months being a critical period. Parent actions and reactions have their greatest impact on a child of this age. The parenting strategies used during this critical 10-18 month span have a lot to do with determining the level of intellectual and social skills these children master. So parents, you are really important!
Burton L. White, heading the Harvard Pre-School Project selected two groups of normal 3-6 year olds to compare. The children were alike in motor and sensory skills, yet differences appeared in intellectual and social skills. White concluded that causes of these differences occurred well before age 3. In studying toddlers between the ages of 1 and 3 he also found that these differences were apparent by age 2. No differences were found in infants less than 10 months of age.
White described an “A” mother as one who produced “A” children. (I would argue that this concept can also be used to describe fathers.)
Typically an “A” parent doesn’t spend excess time “interacting” with each child or giving undivided attention for most of the child’s waking hours. This parent is warm, loving, and available, yet indirectly organizes and designs the child’s physical environment, while directly acting as a consultant to their children “on the fly.” An “A” parent allows children freedom to roam the living area, and provides age appropriate toys and household items for play. They respond to cues from their children, encouraging them to master tasks the children initiated. Such a parent uses personal resources, practical guidelines, knowledge about how a child’s mind develops, and vast reserves of energy in interacting with their children. An “A” parent talks to children, which nourishes their intellect.
In contrast, a “C” parent protects their children and their possessions, and may restrict the child’s instincts to explore. They often use play pens, high chairs, gates, and technology distractions for long periods of time. Although “C” parents may be loving, patient, and well-meaning, they don’t necessarily share their child’s excitement or enthusiasm for discovery and learning. They talk much less to the child and may fail to stimulate him or her intellectually.
The attitudes and behaviors of parents definitely impact a child’s development and later emotional life. Observing so many people of all ages wandering in search of love, acceptance, a place, an identity, etc., leads me to believe that a stable, nurturing, accepting, and stimulating early experience in life can only help prevent some of the unhappiness we witness in our society. Parenting education, knowledge about human development, and emotional and physical support services can go a long way toward making this possible.
Parents and adults have a personal obligation to understand and guide children — modeling responsibility and appropriate behaviors for all children. We must all do our best to be “A” parents.