Purposeful parenting can begin even before a child is born. It can even begin before pregnancy. It is recommended that a woman who plans to become pregnant begin taking prenatal vitamins at least a month prior to conception, if possible. This ensures the proper vitamin balance for optimal development and decreases the likelihood of developmental defects occurring such as spina bifida.
Even after pregnancy, there is much to prepare before the baby arrives. The mother’s regular prenatal care, diet, sleep, exercise, and stress levels all impact the growing child in utero. This time of preparation can be great practice for a mother to begin attuning herself to her child’s anticipated needs, growth, and development. Preparing her and the environment for receiving a new bundle of joy. The parenting relationship is, after all, life long. While this relationship may produce unforgettable, profound bonds of love, it can also be deeply demanding and frustrating for both parent and child at times.
While purposeful parenting is focused on optimizing opportunities for stimulation and growth for the child, it should not be confused with an idea of attaining parental perfection. Simply just initiating an attempt at purposeful parenting is a wonderful way to impact the growth of the child positively. It does not mean that you have to get it right every time or check off every box, do every extra activity and try every method available. It is more about cultivating a willingness to think purposefully about the impact your actions have on your child’s growth.
The child’s brain develops more rapidly during the first five years of life than any other time period. During the first three years of life, children are mostly pre-language and learning more about the social and emotional dynamics between those closest to them. They are learning physical coordination and movement, toning their muscles for the heavy-duty play and exploration that comes later in the elementary years.
Purposeful parenting during the infant end of this stage is about creating a bond and sense of trust. Infants learn whether or not they can depend on their caregivers by the level of response and engagement they receive. While they cannot cognitively understand every interaction, they can sense the emotion and energy behind every facial expression or body language an adult exhibits. Babies and toddlers are excellent at mimicking behavior, so our intentionality here is in the behaviors we model.
Because children at this stage are pre-language, adults will often speak about or around children but not directly to them. Make no mistake, even though they lack expressive language skills, babies and toddlers are soaking in the words and inflections they hear, as well as learning the social cues of conversation. Purposeful Parenting at this stage may include reading to your child often, speaking directly to them with narratives about the actions you are carrying out, or even asking simple, rhetorical questions. While no one would expect a toddler to pick up directly on the vocabulary or concepts you are speaking about, what you are teaching them here is the give and take of conversation and how language is used between people to communicate. This exchange can also be a wonderful experience of expressions and ideas you might not otherwise realize you could share with your young child.
Another important piece of this age of development are the child’s motor skills. Provide opportunities for your child to physically explore an environment, including varied textures for sensory development as well as large motor challenges like climbing and balancing. Every experience informs your child’s coordination and sense of relating to the physical world. Through this exploration, they begin to be able to anticipate the sturdiness or reliability of physical terrain and materials.
An exercise of this nature also includes letting them fall at times. I don’t know anyone that would dispute we often learn best through our own experience. In fact, sometimes we are unable to let well enough alone until we find something out for ourselves. Your child is no different as they begin to internalize the safety and the vulnerability of the world around them. Through supervised exploration, they need to feel for themselves the limits of the physical world and their impact on it. As adaptive beings, children will learn to make adjustments to their coordination only by being given free (and safe) opportunities to explore.
More in the purposeful parenting series by Bonnie McClure: