It’s not the early stimulation, discipline and even the good study habits the most reliable predictors of academic success of children, but something much simpler that, fortunately, parents don’t need learn from manuals. What predicts academic achievement and social skills of children is sensitive care.
Unfortunately, in a society obsessed by success and competitiveness, children are forced to abandon childhood too early. The expectations we load on their shoulders are often too heavy. When parents wants their children to be the best, filling their agenda of extracurricular activities which “prepare them for life” and stifle their imagination giving them excessive responsibilities, they take away the most precious thing that has a child: his childhood.
And the worst thing is that it has shown that early academic education does not improve the results in the long term.
What is sensitive care?
Caring for a child is not simply to dress, feed and keep him safe. These are the basic necessities for survival, but are not sufficient for a child to be happy and successfully develop the emotional sphere.
Caring for a child includes all behaviors and strategies implemented by parents to protect and stimulate his growth. Psychologists have analyzed thousands of parent-child relationships in order to identify the essential characteristics of sensitive care, the ones that actually enhance the emotional and cognitive development of children. This is the result:
– Acceptance. Not only it implies the unconditional acceptance but also love, tenderness, protection and shared pleasure. In fact, even if they are not able to explain it, children perceive these feelings from childhood, as well as perceive rejection, anger, resentment or irritation of their parents.
– Cooperation. It means that parents should be able to connect emotionally with their child, seeing him as an independent and active person, even if he’s just a child. Parents validate and respect wishes and feelings of the child, they do not consider their children as a property or control and punish them according to their expectations and desires.
– Accessibility. It is the physical and psychological availability of parents to meet the needs and priorities of their child. It implies closeness and physical contact, but also emotional availability, and the ability to show pleasure staying and sharing with him. These parents are not emotionally distant and do not let their children grow up in the shadow of technology.
– Sensitivity. It refers to the ability of parents to be attentive to the child’s signals, interpret them properly and respond quickly. In this “communication”, nonverbal at first, the child not only receives the validation, but also learns to connect emotionally with others.
In practice, parents who practice sensitive care are those who perceive the needs of their children and respond quickly and appropriately. These parents respect their children, are able to adopt their point of view and establish a positive relationship with them, guaranteeing the security and confidence they need to explore the world and develop.
A key feature of these parents is that they are not only able to understand and validate the emotional states of their children, but also adapt to their evolution. This means that do not violate their development and do not claim that they grow quickly, charging them with responsibility, or filling them with tasks that are inappropriate for that period of their lives.
The study which showed the importance of sensitivity in childcare
Psychologists from the University of Delaware and Minnesota analyzed 243 children born in poverty and at risk of social exclusion. These were monitored from birth until the age of 32 years old. During the first 3 years of life they have carefully observed how parents interacted with their children.
As time passed, the children, who later became teenagers and young men and women, were subjected to a series of tests in which were assessed their level of social adjustment, taking into account the opinion of teachers and academic achievement.
The results showed that, even at the age of 30, the difference in the care received during their childhood had a profound impact. These researchers believe that childhood experiences, especially during the first years of life, have a crucial role in the intellectual and social skills that we will develop throughout life.
In fact, it is at this stage that we develop the type of bond, which will turn us into confident people, open to new experiences, and emotionally stable or, on the contrary, transform us into more rigid persons, fearful and prone to addiction. Of course, this attitude will influence all spheres of our lives, from relationships to the image we have of ourselves and also our success in professional life.
This indicates that are love and sensitivity received during the first few years of life, not the extracurricular activities or the pressure to improve themselves, to make a meaningful difference in children’s lives.
Raby, K. L. et. Al. (2014) The Enduring Predictive Significance of Early Maternal Sensitivity: Social and Academic Competence Through Age 32 Years. Child Development; 86(3): 695-708.
Egeland, B. et. Al. (1993) Resilience as process. Development and Psychopathology; 5: 517-528.