Early child development is underpinned by brain development, by genetic and epigenetic inheritance and by physical development. Two key features of early childhood development that researchers study are ‘self-regulation’ and ‘executive function’.
Parental care shapes early childhood development. Neglect, the absence of adequate parental care, is a severe threat to early childhood development. Over-exposure to stress – ‘toxic stress’ – undermines development while strong relationships with parents provide protection and build resilience.
THE MECHANICS OF EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
The human brain develops continually through childhood development, from before the birth and into adulthood. Like the construction of a building, the foundations are laid early. The brain builds from the bottom up in clearly defined development stages. That’s why early support for development is so important. A stronger foundation not only means the child is further ahead at a given moment in time, it also means learning and development can proceed more rapidly in the future.
Early childhood development sees the brain developing extremely rapidly. Billions of new connections are created every hour among neurons in different parts of the brain. After this rapid proliferation, brain development shifts towards efficiency. Some neural connections are made stronger and faster and others are pruned and lost. Meanwhile, the brain builds ever more sophisticated connections during later childhood and adolescence, associated with more enhanced skills. Pruning continues.