From the moment a child is born he is developing mentally and physically. In fact, long before birth, a baby develops the ability to recognize his mother’s voice, is physically able to kick and suck his thumb and make other movements that help to develop muscle strength in preparation for surviving outside the womb.
The first two years of a child’s life are critical to his physical, mental and emotional development. A baby will learn to roll, crawl and then eventually walk; skills that require a child to be persistent despite failing often before mastering the moves. His mental development is just as critical as his physical and during the first two years he will learn hand to eye coordination, how to talk, and how to undertake simple tasks for himself. Much of these skills are developed through educational play and the interaction with adults and siblings.
Healthy and safety are the two biggest issues facing a child of this age. He relies on his parents to be his protectors, defenders, educators and caregivers. It is imperative that parents, particularly those who are very young and facing having their first child, receive adequate education in the health and safety needs of a child of this young age. Safety issues such as follows:
• Providing a healthy and safe sleep environment i.e. a crib that is safe, hygienic and of sufficient size to allow for the significant growth the child will go through within those first two years
• Providing safety when transporting i.e. a stroller that is age appropriate and will provide the support a baby needs in his first weeks, and an infant car seat that will provide the maximum support and safety should he be involved in a car accident
• Providing a safe environment within the home i.e. child-proofing electrical outlets, cupboard doors, sharp corners of coffee tables, heaters guarded, access to stairs gated
• Providing age appropriate toys that the child cannot injure himself on or with i.e. no small parts that can detach and be swallowed
Health issues such as follows:
• Ensuring his inoculations are administered properly and in a timely manner
• Ensuring he receives regular checkups with his doctor to assess growth progress
• Ensuring he receives optimum nutrition
• Ensuring that any medical issues are addressed in a timely manner
• Ensuring his vision and hearing is checked regularly for signs of impairment
While many first time parents have the advantage of their own parents to turn to for advice regarding the health and safety of their child, when there is not parental support available, first time parents need to have other resources available.
• Parenting classes within high schools i.e. though this is not mandatory in all schools students who are about to become parents need to be able to have easy access to parenting classes either within the school environment or out in the community. School health professionals should have a list of resources available to refer young parents-to-be to.
• Medical professionals should have a list of parenting classes available
• Once the child is born parents should have regular home visits from a professional trained to provide support, advice and information, and to assess and address any issues that they observe
• A 24 hour help line that provides parenting advice, medical advice and psychiatric support should parents be in need of information or someone to talk to regarding their ability to cope with a young baby. This service would have a list of contacts available 24/7 if further assistance is required
• Groups that parents can join to interact and share ideas with other parents i.e. young mothers groups where a teenage mother can network and make friends with other young mothers
In order for a child to develop at a healthy rate he must have a healthy environment in which to live. His parents should be in a position to provide a home that allows for the child to have his own crib, preferably within his own room. The home should be free of potential hazards or child-proofed to prevent injury. While at this young age a child does not need to have an area to play outside he does need to have room to play within the home.
Play is important to a child developing physically and mentally, and is the first step in his education. Developing hand and eye coordination is a first step towards becoming less dependent upon his parents for simple tasks such as feeding himself, picking up toys and more. This will require the child having toys available to him that encourage interaction.
Parents of special needs children require support that accounts for the specific needs of both the child and the parents. Resources and information should be made readily available to families with a special needs child, and assistance given to ensure the child’s basic needs are met. A special needs child may require modifications to be made to the home and government assistance programs should be in place for parents who are financially unable to provide those modifications themselves. Parents of a special needs child are likely to need access to specific medical information as well as support groups both online and within the community.
Information and a list of resources should be readily available at all medical clinics, high schools, universities, child care facilities, and community centers, as well as on online on all city and state websites. State and national agencies should have adequate resources to provide support and information to all parents. Government must provide sufficient funds for such agencies to be able to hire adequate numbers of professionals to be available to provide the level of support required. At the community level there should be access to low-cost housing that allows families who are struggling financially to provide an adequate home for themselves and their child. Access to low-cost items such as cribs, strollers, clothing and the like should be provided to low-income families too.