Hear me now! Tomorrow may be too late! - Early Childhood Development Communication Campaign
UNICEF is launching an early childhood development campaign with the slogan Hear me now! Tomorrow may be too late! It aims at raising public awareness of the importance of early childhood and the need for support, as well as to raise funds for the UNICEF "School for Parents - Let's Grow up Together" project.
What is EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT (ECD)?
Early childhood development involves all the support that a child needs from their prenatal development to the age of 8 in order to realize their right to survival, protection and care, which will ensure their optimal development. It covers such areas as infant stimulation, health and nutrition, early childhood education, family support and community development among others.
Why the first 3 YEARS?
The first few years after their birth have a major influence on the child's success later in life - from good health and success in school to self-esteem level and social skills. Children's brains develop incredibly fast and nerve connections that are forged during that period through the interaction with those closest to them remain unchanged for life.
Overall emotional stability and feelings of trust are also established during the early years in life and later become the basis for any important relationships with peers, adults, and partners, and even with their own children.
It is safe to say that this critical period in a child's development offers great opportunities for each child, but it is also the period when those opportunities can be wasted. Poor upbringing in the first years of life is later reflected in feelings of dissatisfaction with life, impaired relationships, learning difficulties, eating disorders, high rates of crime and violence, addiction, and other personal and social issues. It is evident that such disorders become increasingly more expensive and difficult to treat later in life, often bringing no results.
Although every child develops at their own pace, numerous studies have shown that development is fastest during the period before the age of three. During that time, and especially during the first year of life, small children usually live in the privacy of their homes and are completely dependent upon adults. Parenting skills are crucial in bringing up children, providing emotional support, encouraging their development, and establishing successful communication with them. However, it is well known that most young parents never have a chance to learn and acquire positive parenting skills.
If we provide parents with support during this period, teach them about parenting skills and offer them knowledge that will help fulfil the potential of their child with love, we will give children a better chance at successful and happy lives in a healthy and progressive society.
INVESTING in early childhood development:
Programmes and policies on early childhood development represent an investment in a country's future and both its economic and social development. They bring further benefits and contribute directly to increasing society's assets, while improving the effectiveness of all investment and addressing the issue of parents' need for child rearing know-how. Integrated programmes for the youngest also help overcome disadvantages, thereby providing one of the core means of fighting poverty.
Proper cognitive and emotional development during the early years will result in immeasurable benefits later in life. Investing in early childhood development has an annual return rate of 10 per cent. Early prevention is much less costly than any that would be invested in at a later stage in order to prevent existing health and social problems.
What is PARENTING?
Parenting is as old as the human race and many people believe it to be instinctive, so why bother discussing it and learning new things about it? People tend to believe that they know what parenting is all about. So if we know what it is, we should be able to easily influence it, right? Things, however, are not that simple.
Parenting is an intricate complex of practical activities, skills, thoughts, relationships, and feelings. As essential as it is, it remains one of many parent identities and has to compete with other roles that parents play as partners, professionals, society members, and individuals. Parenting is also a lifelong process: from the early years as children observing their own parents, through the initial views on having or not children of their own, through the preparation for parenting, pregnancy, childbirth, the various growth phases of the child, and right through determining the relationship with the grown children. It should be kept in mind that parenting is not only about adults - it involves children equally, as they partake in this active interaction and, to a large extent, influence their parents and their relationship with them.
Parenting is determined by the individual characteristics of the parents, by their previous experience, the knowledge and relationships they have acquired, as well as their psychological and other features. A depressed mother may not be able to provide her child with sufficient and quality interaction, even if she is aware of their importance (in fact, this may further aggravate her depression!). Parenting is also determined by the children's characteristics: overly energetic children need one type of parents, while quiet and shy children need another. How parents manage depends on their daily sources of stress and support: their living conditions, their job or lack thereof, their relationship with their partners, the support of their friends and family, the presence or lack of supporting services (such as kindergartens, health advice, etc.). Naturally, parenting is also determined by wider social conventions established through custom and/or religion, set by the law, and maintained by the media and the economic sector. Once we are aware of this, we can choose how best to offer parents support and how to identify what needs to be changed.
The methods and emphasis in child rearing have changed over the years. Until recently, it was deemed essential to raise obedient children; children who know and conform to social conventions and respect authority. During the 20th century, this approach was questioned and it was freedom that came to the fore, especially so in Western societies. Happiness was wrongly perceived as the lack of any worries, and parents would go to great lengths to make their children „happy", i.e. constantly satisfied. However, it is important to know that overly tolerant parents, too, can harm their children. Then what is a good parenting? This is a simple question the answer to which is extremely complicated. Still, to put it simply, good parenting is parenting in the best interest of the child.
Parenting in the best interest of the child comprises four elements:
This includes responsiveness to the child's need for love, emotional warmth, security, belonging, and acceptance. If parents manage to secure a safe environment, emotional warmth and predictable responses to the child, they will have established a secure foundation on which the child can then develop and study the surrounding world.
Children need their parents to guide them, as the world is still new to them. This includes setting the day-to-day rules of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. These rules need to be discussed and explained to the child in a way appropriate for their age.
3. Respect for the child's individuality
Children are individuals with their own views, ideas, and preferences. Parents need to listen, watch, and understand their children, and respect their individual perception of the world. This is essential for developing the children's sense of self-respect.
4. Opportunities and support for greater independence
Parents are expected to help their children in acquiring new skills, in developing a sense of achievement and belief in their abilities to cope with problems. This can be achieved by allowing children to experiment, to make mistakes, and to try out new things. Overly cautious parents sometimes do too much for their children, thus denying them the chance to develop and be proud of themselves.
UNICEF and early childhood development in BULGARIA
Our aim is for every child to have the best start in life. In the current economic conditions, it is more important than ever to invest the limited resources with care and in support of families. Early childhood development provides an excellent opportunity that may shape the future of thousands of Bulgarian children.
We are working in the field of education, healthcare, and social protection in conjunction with national and local authorities and the civil society toward developing and introducing policies and standards of early learning, access to healthcare, and support for families.
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