Why do Early Moments Matter?
Early Childhood Development summarised in 10 questions and answers
- Why does UNICEF mean by ‘Early Moments Matter’?
The first 1000 days, from conception up to two years of age, set the foundation of everyone’s life. Early life experiences, from conception until seven years of age, set a trajectory for good life-long health and well-being, with lower cardiovascular disease, non-communicable infections and higher earnings. Hence, investments in Early Childhood Development are critical for children, communities and nations.
- Why is Early Childhood Development so important?
Early Childhood offers a critical window of opportunity to shape a child’s development trajectory and build a foundation for the future. For children to achieve their full potential, they need proper nutrition, adequate health care, protection from harm and a sense of security, opportunities for early learning, and responsive caregiving – like talking, singing, and playing – with parents and caregivers who love them. Children’s brains are built, moment by moment, as they interact with their environments. In the first few years of life, more than one million neural connections are formed each second, a rate of development never repeated.
The quality of a child’s early experiences makes a critical difference as their brains develop, providing either solid or weak foundations for learning, health, and behaviour throughout life. While genes provide a blueprint, experiences build brain architecture: young children’s brains are shaped by their experiences, and brain development results from a child’s interactions with the environment.
When children miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, they pay the price in lost potential – dying before they have a chance to grow up; or going through life with poor physical and mental health, struggling to learn and, later, to earn a living.
Adverse experiences have potential lifelong impacts. Toxic stress - prolonged exposure to stress, deprivation and violence - impedes brain development in early childhood. It can result in challenges to the child’s physical health, social-emotional well-being, mental health, memory, and learning. Formation of neural connections is interrupted if a child is poorly nourished and nurtured appropriately, stimulated is not appropriately stimulated, and is not protected from violence and pollution.
- Timing is essential. Why?
Timing matters - early intervention is key.
Evidence shows that the rates of return on public investment in human capital rapidly diminish with age. Investing early in the life course provides significantly higher return rates than investments targeted at later stages in life.
- How does Early Childhood Development impact the development of an entire nation?
Failing to give children the best start in life perpetuates cycles of poverty and disadvantage that can span generations, undermining the strength and stability of our societies.
When we give children the best start, the benefits are enormous for every child and the societies we share. Providing Early Childhood Development interventions to all young children and families is one of the most powerful and cost-effective equalisers to ensure that the most vulnerable children can reach their full potential.
Early Childhood Development is the best investment for a child's development, the community in which a child is born, and the entire nation. Investment in Early Childhood Development initiatives can lead to better individual adult incomes of up to 25 per cent. Benefits derived from Early Childhood Development investments far outweigh costs, with Early Childhood Development investments giving back almost 13 per cent annually. The returns are actualised in reduced poverty and income gaps, as well as increased prosperity and competitiveness of economies.
- What does Early Childhood Development entail?
Promoting children’s optimal development needs coordinated efforts across health, nutrition, education, child protection and social protection systems, public financing and beyond.
Early Childhood Development includes many interventions, including support to parents and caregivers, exclusive breastfeeding, early learning and creating an enabling environment through government initiatives and the engagement of the private sector.
- How do parental programmes impact childhood development?
Parenting programmes are crucial to improve the support, confidence and skills parents and caregivers need to engage in nurturing care, bonding and playful interactions with their children. They are shown to dramatically reduce childhood adversity, break intergenerational patterns of abuse and neglect, promote caregivers’ mental health, and promote the well-being of children across the life course. Also, support programmes for parents and caregivers are the best investments to prevent mental health conditions among children during adolescence and beyond.
- What is the best nutrition for a young child?
Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for a young child. Exclusive breastfeeding till six months is pivotal in preventing malnutrition and ensuring young children get a good start in life.
Breastmilk is the only food a baby needs for the first six months. It ensures good physical growth and cognitive development of the child; helps prevent malnutrition; provides immunity and protects young children against infections and childhood illnesses; and is readily available, safe, and does not cost anything. It facilitates mother-child bonding and forms a unique biological and emotional basis for the health of both mother and child.
As such, Government and society are responsible for protecting, supporting and enabling breastfeeding, including by preventing the marketing of breastmilk substitutes.
- Besides a caring environment and good nutrition, what else is essential for the Early Childhood Development of a child?
The opportunity to learn from an early age is of critical importance for the development of a child.
Children enrolled in at least one year of early education are more likely to develop the essential skills they need to succeed in school, less likely to repeat grades or drop out of school, and therefore more able to contribute to peaceful and prosperous societies and economies when they reach adulthood. Children in early education are more than twice as likely to be on track in early literacy and numeracy skills than children missing out on early learning.
The importance of play must be considered. Children learn best through play. Space creates powerful learning opportunities across all areas of development – intellectual, social, emotional and physical.
- What can a government do to support the Early Childhood Development of young children?
Family-friendly early childhood development policies and government investment in early childhood development interventions across the five domains of the nurturing care framework must be a national priority: good health, adequate nutrition, opportunities for early learning, safety and security and responsive caregiving.
In addition, more significant investment in quality, affordable child care is linked with greater opportunities for women, economic advancement and empowerment.
- Does the private sector have a role to play?
Private sector actors can help create an enabling environment for parents and caregivers to take care of their young children by ensuring sufficient paid leave to parents and guardians, supporting the ability of mothers to breastfeed exclusively for six months at the workplace, providing child benefits and adequate wages to help families provide for young children, and supporting programmes to ensure children have access to affordable, quality childcare and