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The importance of early development for later success

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The early years are crucial for the development of a secure emotional attachment and the skills that help children succeed in life. Promoting and developing these skills along with strengthening families are important ways to improve long term outcomes for children. Supporting families and parents through innovative strength-based parent education programs have been successful and help improve parent-child relationships while also preventing child maltreatment. Important components of these programs include engaging parents in the development of their children, focusing on positive parenting and child behaviors, and learning strategies for better managing stress.

Research shows that the development of important emotional, cognitive, and behavioral skills takes place early in life. These foundational skills are not only important for a successful transition to school, but also for later academic achievement and social adjustment. However, many young children are not developing strong levels of these skills. For example, large differences in children’s vocabulary skills are seen before children enter school, and even before the age of three! In addition, many children have difficulty learning to control their thoughts, feelings, and behavior – skills referred to as self-regulation. A recent study found that more children are expelled in preschool than are expelled between kindergarten and 12th grade! In an attempt to explain this disturbing finding, researchers have pointed to an increasing lack of self-regulation or self-control in young children.

Working with children to help them practice key self-regulation skills through games that ask children to stop, think, and THEN act have been shown to significantly improve these skills in preschool children. For example, playing fun and engaging movement and music games that exercise the brain are great ways to encourage positive parent-child interactions and help children develop important self-regulation skills. A few games to try include the Freeze! game where children (and parents!) dance fast to fast music and slow to slow music. Parents can then reverse the rules and have children dance fast to slow music and slow to fast music! Playing Simon Says! is another game where parents can increase the complexity by adding rules that ask children to do the opposite to what is asked.

The pathways for future social and educational outcomes are shaped during the early years, which make it critical to intervene early to promote healthy development in children and families. These games along with using evidenced-based parenting education programs can be critical tools for strengthening families and optimizing child outcomes.

Megan McClelland, Ph.D.
Associate Professor & Graduate Program Coordinator
Human Development and Family Sciences

Core Director, Healthy Development in Early Childhood
Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children & Families
Oregon State University


This is posted in conjunction with Oregon Parenting Education Week 2013

The Hallie Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families promotes the development and well being of children, youth and families by generating, translating and sharing research-based knowledge.

The Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative (OPEC) supports delivery of high quality parenting education programs and collaborative efforts to strengthen regional parenting education systems.

OPEC is a partnership of four of Oregon’s largest foundations (The Oregon Community Foundation, The Ford Family Foundation, The Meyer Memorial Trust and The Collins Foundation) and Oregon State University.