How Important are the Early Years to Later Psychological Wellbeing?

In June 2009, Drs. James Mercy and Janet Saul wrote an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that summarized the state of knowledge regarding the benefits of early childhood interventions. Research has conclusively shown that family breakdowns, such as parental mental health and substance abuse, neglect, and abuse, have been linked to increased levels of aggression, conduct disorder, antisocial behaviour, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, anxiety, depression and suicide in children. The authors noted that while most researchers are now clear that preschool interventions can improve early childhood experiences and development, policy makers are not yet fully aware of the research showing that adolescent and adult health is also “profoundly affected by early childhood experiences and can similarly be improved”. Research is now showing that health in adulthood depends on the development of psychological, behavioural and social competencies that can only be built on a childhood foundation of safety, stability and nurturance. These three concepts are particularly important and deserve to be clearly defined.  Safety has to do with the extent to which a child is free from excessive fear. Stability has to do with the consistency of a child’s relationship with his/her caregiver, and nurturance measures the extent to which a caregiver is available and able to respond sensitively and meet the varied needs of a particular child. Early interventions that help promote these three factors have been shown to improve health during later childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

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