The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 8, 2013

Birth to age 2 is a busy time in a child's development

By Carol Hoffman
For The Daily Item

— The first five years are the most important years in a person’s life. The quality of care a child receives before entering kindergarten matters greatly.

A child’s first five years include lots of love and attention, a safe and healthy daytime and nighttime routine, proper nutrition, appropriate toys , simple consistent “rules” and at least one book read to him or her every day. 

These are all important experiences but are by no means the whole list.

When infants, toddlers and preschoolers do not experience an ideal first five years of life, they enter kindergarten, ready or not — and with extra-special needs. The cost has become unaffordable in terms of children’s unhealthy  emotional, social, mentally and physical development, as well as the cost to schools — which translates to taxpayers.

Today we’ll focus on birth to 2.  Next time, we’ll explore 3, 4 and 5.

What do babies and 2-year-olds have to do with success in school?  Plenty. Let’s look at things that can go wrong for the very young child.

A crying infant can be a problem for parents with stress or anger-management issues. One of the absolutely worst things a frustrated or angry parent or baby-sitter can do to an infant is to shake the child. Shaking can do serious damage to the neck and — damage that will never go away. The baby-shaking syndrome is not uncommon and more 5-year-olds than ever are coming to school brain-damaged.

Parents know that drinking alcohol and taking certain drugs during pregnancy can cause brain damage in their children. Kindergarten teachers are seeing multiple causes of brain-damaged children entering their classrooms. Brain damage that is caused by another person can range from mild to severe.

There is no excuse good enough for anyone to shake a baby or young child.

And it’s sad enough for a baby to be born damaged through no fault of the parents.

One developmental accident of unknown cause tends to emerge by 2.  Autism. A growing number of children entering kindergarten are identified as autistic. When the “cause” of autism is almost discovered, it turns out to be questionable. Sadly, as of now, the cause is unknown.

From birth to 2, children take in their world through the five senses — seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling.  During this time, the brain has a left side and a right side. A bridge that connects each separate part begins to develop. In most children, those halves are connected by age 6 or 7.

One of the most important life-long traits developed by a child’s first birthday is the ability to trust. This means that during the child’s first year of life, she “senses” that her basic needs are either being met — or not met.

Here’s an example of sensing. I am wet and uncomfortable and somebody will take care of me. The opposite is, I am wet and uncomfortable and nobody comes to my rescue. No one cares about me.

The capacity to trust in others to care “when I need them” is developed about the time the first candle appears on a cake. The first geometric shape an infant sees is the circle. We look down on babies in a crib and the baby sees many circles — face, eyes, nostrils, mouth.  She sees, hears the cooing voice, smells a scent, reaches out to touch the face, then tastes her fingers. She feels safe. She is learning. 

Around age 2, if she sees you draw a circle with a crayon, she might be able to draw a circle — wobbly, no doubt. Typically, the 2-year-old will scribble vertical or horizontal lines. Hopefully, not on the kitchen walls.

Physically, the 2-year-old is usually unable to sit on the floor “pretzel” style. Instead, she sits with her legs straight out. Hopping or standing on one foot is rarely possible at this stage of development.

While there are hundreds of important things to know about those first two years, I chose just a few examples of emotional, social, mental and physical development.  By 2, a real person with a personality and pattern of behavior is emerging.

You already know his or her favorite word — “NO!”

Carol Hoffman of Dalmatia  is a wife, mother, grandmother, author, teacher, consultant and retired school administrator. She holds a doctorate from Temple University. Email your thoughts, ideas and questions to carolmhoffman@yahoo.com.