Home Emergencies: preparadness and reponse Injury prevention Child protection HIV and AIDS Malaria Hygiene Coughs, colds and more serious illnesses Diarrhoea Immunization Nutrition and growth Breastfeeding Child development and early learning Safe motherhood and newborn health Timing births
Facts for Life

Child Development and Early Learning

Supporting Information

2.

Babies learn rapidly from the moment of birth. They grow and learn best when responsive and caring parents and other caregivers give them affection, attention and stimulation in addition to good nutrition, proper health care and protection.

Touch, hearing, smell, sight and taste are learning tools the child uses toexplore and understand her or his world.

Affection, attention and stimulation

Children's minds develop rapidly when they are talked to, touched and cuddled; when they see and hear familiar faces and voices; and when they handle different objects.

Children learn quickly when they feel loved and secure from birth and when they play and interact with family members and other people close to them. The more often mothers, fathers and other caregivers play with, talk to and respond to the child, the faster she or he learns.

Parents and other caregivers should consistently talk, read and sing to infants and young children. Even if the child is not yet able to understand the words, these early 'conversations' help to develop social and language skills and learning capacities.

Parents and other caregivers can help children learn and grow by giving them new, interesting and safe things to look at, listen to, smell, hold and play with.

Children who feel secure and loved usually do better in school, are more self-confident, have good self-esteem and are able to cope more easily with life's challenges.

Good nutrition

Exclusive breastfeeding on demand for the first six months, timely introduction of safe and nutritious foods at the age of 6 months and continued breastfeeding for two years or beyond provide the child with optimal nutrition and health benefits. Feeding time is also an opportunity for the child to receive affection and have contact with the mother, father or other caregiver.

Good nutrition is vital for a child's growth and development. The diet of a pregnant woman and that of a young child should be varied and nutritious. It should include essential nutrients such as proteins and essential fats to help a child's body grow and have energy, vitamin A to help a child resist illness, iodine to help ensure the healthy development of a child's brain, and iron to protect a child's mental and physical abilities.

While the mother has the primary role of breastfeeding the child, the father can support her by making sure she has nutritious food, helping with household and childcare responsibilities, and being emotionally supportive of her, the baby, the older children and other family members.

Proper health care

The health worker should inform parents and other caregivers about:

  • necessary immunizations and the schedule to follow
  • how to avoid anaemia and parasitic diseases in children over 6 months of age
  • why deworming is important
  • how to ensure that the child gets enough nutrients, such as iron and vitamin A, for her or his healthy mental and physical development.

Children who are anaemic, malnourished or frequently sick may become fearful and upset more easily than healthy children. They will also lack the drive to play, explore and interact with others. These children need special attention, care and encouragement to eat, play and interact with others in order to become healthy.

Infants who have completed their immunizations on time and are receiving proper nutrition, health care, love and affection have an increased chance of survival. They are able to concentrate on exploring, learning and developing cognitive, language, social, emotional and motor skills.

Protection and care from responsive and caring parents and/or other caregivers

Babies and small children should not be left alone for long periods of time. This delays their physical and mental development. It also puts them at risk of accidents.

Girls need the same amount of food, attention, affection and care that boys need. All babies and young children need to be encouraged and praised when they learn to do something new and say new words.

All girls and boys should have their birth registered in order to help ensure their right to access basic services, such as health care, education and legal and social services.