Written by Aimee Verdisco
On May 15th the world celebrates families. And how not to if they provide security and stability. To cite one of my daughter’s favorite books, Big Words for Little People: “Family is where we all belong. Keeping us safe, making us strong.” And research agrees. When asked in surveys around the world what makes people happy, family and meaningful relationships are at the top of the list. Consistently… Everywhere.
What about kids? What makes them happy? What makes them thrive? Kids like to play and have fun. Research tells us that kids thrive in nurturing environments. This means having structure, like consist rules, boundaries and routines, and having support. When kids have emotional support and responsiveness to questions and needs, they feel safe. Put stability and security together, and you get – again– meaningful relationships.
Families, defined in the broadest sense, matter for kids. Quality interactions between adults and children shape their self-esteem, expectations of self and others, and worldviews. They also shape learning and overall development. Data from the IDB PRIDI project find that, by age five, kids in a nurturing environment have the equivalent of 8 months more of cognitive development and 13 months more of language skills than kids who aren’t. If a loving family or nurturing environment is not present in kids´ lives, big gaps increase over time and probabilities of success in school and life decrease.
Nurturing environments can be found all over the world and in every kind of family. They are characterized by more than stability and security. In nurturing environments responsiveness is the guiding parenting paradigm: Parents read, tell stories, and play with their kids. There are routines, like meal and bedtimes, and kids gain progressively more responsibilities for themselves and others. Nurturing environments are where a child’s mind is stretched and taken to heights, where the hardest of life’s questions are asked and answered, where resiliency is made, and grit takes off. This is where kids prepare for whatever life throws at them and acquire the hard and soft skills needed to either duck the curve balls of life or hit home runs off of them.
Nurturing environments are also where gaps start closing. PRIDI data find little difference in the level of socioemotional skills between a poor child in a nurturing environment and a rich child.
Carpe diem: Go beyond the yeahs and the whatevers and engage your child in conversation. Be more responsive. Go for a walk. Look at the flowers and talk about them. Create routines, and most importantly: have fun!