The early years of a child’s life are very important for later health and development. One of the main reasons is how fast the brain grows starting before birth and continuing into early childhood. Although the brain continues to develop and change into adulthood, the first 8 years can build a foundation for future learning, health and life success.
How well a brain develops depends on many factors in addition to genes, such as:
- Proper nutrition starting in pregnancy
- Exposure to toxins or infections
- The child’s experiences with other people and the world
Nurturing and responsive care for the child’s body and mind is the key to supporting healthy brain development. Positive or negative experiences can add up to shape a child’s development and can have lifelong effects. To nurture their child’s body and mind, parents and caregivers need support and the right resources. The right care for children, starting before birth and continuing through childhood, ensures that the child’s brain grows well and reaches its full potential. CDC is working to protect children so that their brains have a healthy start.
The importance of early childhood experiences for brain development
Children are born ready to learn, and have many skills to learn over many years. They depend on parents, family members, and other caregivers as their first teachers to develop the right skills to become independent and lead healthy and successful lives. How the brain grows is strongly affected by the child’s experiences with other people and the world. Nurturing care for the mind is critical for brain growth. Children grow and learn best in a safe environment where they are protected from neglect and from extreme or chronic stressexternal icon with plenty of opportunities to play and explore.
Parents and other caregivers can support healthy brain growth by speaking to, playing with, and caring for their child. Children learn best when parents take turns when talking and playing, and build on their child’s skills and interests. Nurturing a child by understanding their needs and responding sensitively helps to protect children’s brains from stress. Speaking with children and exposing them to books, stories, and songs helps strengthen children’s language and communication, which puts them on a path towards learning and succeeding in school.