Nurturing Your Toddler, Preschooler, and Young Child Introduction
Angela Oswalt, MSW, Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.
This topic center covers parenting and child development of preschool children (early childhood aged 3 to 7. For a complete review of the theories of child development upon which this article is based, please visit our Child and Adolescent Development topic center. For coverage of child development and parenting topics applicable to infant children (ages 0-2) please visit our Infant Parenting and Child Development topic center. For information on parenting and child development of middle childhood children (ages 8 to 11), please visit our Middle Childhood Parenting and Development center and Child Development Theory: Middle Childhood center. For information on parenting adolescents (ages 12-24), please visit our Adolescence Child Development and Parenting and Child Development Theory: Adolescence topic center.
Nurturing is vital to children's development, a secret ingredient that enables children to grow physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, culturally, and spiritually. It doesn't matter if children are provided with a healthy diet, adequate shelter and medical care. If they are not adequately nurtured as well, their health and development will generally suffer. It's a good thing, then, that nurturing children is one of the more fun and rewarding parts of raising a family. Nurture activities allow parents to express their creative, loving, and playful sides as they help their children grow and learn.
There is no one single and proper way to nurture a child. Some parents, anxious to do their best, worry that they may not be adequately nurturing their children, or that they may not be nurturing their children the "right way". For the most part, such concerns are unfounded. By its nature nurturing is a creative and spontaneous activity that can take many forms. Most any activity parents engage in that shows children that they are loved will be an effective act of nurture. It is important that parents encourage and select nurturing activities that will help young children to develop properly, but in most cases, parents will naturally and spontaneously be drawn to select and provide children with nurturing activities that will accomplish this goal. Children will just think that Mom, Dad, and Grandpa want to play and to enjoy time together. They won't know that parents are actually trying to teach loving lessons.
Some parents fail to bond adequately with their children, and as a result find the act of nurturing their children to be something they have to force rather then something that comes naturally. Parents who feel this way are not necessary bad at caregiving. Instead, it may be the case that the maternal-infant bond (the core relationship between primary caregiver and child) was prevented from developing due to circumstances outside of the caregiver's control. A promising but not-yet-definitively-studied form of psychotherapy is available to help repair such disturbed maternal-infant bonds. Interested parents should listen to this podcast, and then take a look at this article for more information.
This article provides general guidance on how parents can best create a nurturing environment in which young children can grow. We accomplish this goal by reviewing various important aspects of child development, including children's physical, cognitive, social, emotional, cultural, and spiritual development, and providing examples of nurturing activities that can spur growth in each area. As you read this article, remember that there is no one "right way" to nurture your child. We are not intending to provide a "how-to" guide which will enable your child to achieve (or exceed) developmental milestones. Rather, we are hoping to provide examples of ways that parents can encourage development while simultaneously expressing their love and enjoyment of their younger children.