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Promoting Optimal Health and Development of Children

By

Deborah M. Consolini

, MD, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital

Reviewed/Revised May 2023 | Modified Aug 2023
VIEW PROFESSIONAL VERSION

Parents and caregivers can help children achieve their best possible health. The early years of life are crucial for health and physical, intellectual, and social/emotional development. If babies' physical needs are met regularly and consistently, they quickly learn that their caregiver is a source of satisfaction, creating a firm bond of trust and attachment. Healthy babies grow into healthy children and adolescents.

Childhood health

Preventive health care visits (also called well-child visits) are important for the promotion and maintenance of good health in infants (see Preventive Health Care Visits in Infants Preventive Health Care Visits in Infants Healthy infants should be seen by their doctor often during the first year of life. Preventive health care visits (also called well-child visits) typically take place within a few days after... read more Preventive Health Care Visits in Infants ), children (see Preventive Health Care Visits in Children Preventive Health Care Visits in Children Scheduled visits to the doctor (also called well-child visits) provide parents with information about their child's growth and development. Such visits also give parents an opportunity to ask... read more Preventive Health Care Visits in Children ), and adolescents (see Preventive Health Care Visits in Adolescents Preventive Health Care Visits in Adolescents Annual health care visits (also called well-child visits) allow doctors and other health care professionals to monitor physical growth and sexual maturation (puberty) and provide advice and... read more ). These visits help prevent disease through routine vaccination Childhood Vaccination Schedules Vaccination protects children against many infectious diseases. Vaccines contain either noninfectious components of bacteria or viruses or whole forms of these organisms that have been weakened... read more , other preventive health measures, and assessment for medical issues. The visits also give parents an opportunity to ask questions and learn about how to help their children grow physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Child development

To develop emotionally and intellectually, babies need affection and stimulation. Parents who provide a smiling face, frequent amiable speech, physical contact, and love are supporting their baby's development. A pleasant, positive interaction enjoyed by both parent and baby is the most important thing and is more important than the type or number of toys or gadgets in the home.

Promoting optimal development in a child works best if approached with flexibility, keeping the individual child's age, temperament, developmental stage, and learning style in mind. A coordinated approach involving parents, teachers, and the child usually works best. Throughout these years, children need an environment that promotes lifelong curiosity and learning. Children should be provided with books and music. A routine of daily interactive reading, with parents asking as well as answering questions, helps children pay attention and read with comprehension and encourages their interest in learning activities. Screen time (for example, television, video games, cell phones and other handheld devices, and noneducational computer time) may result in inactivity and obesity, and limits on the time a child spends using devices with screens should start at birth and be maintained throughout adolescence.

Playgroups and preschool have benefits for many young children. Children can learn important social skills, such as sharing. In addition, they may begin to recognize letters, numbers, and colors. Learning these skills makes the transition to school smoother. Importantly, in a structured preschool setting, potential developmental problems can be identified and addressed early.

Parents who are in need of child care Child Care In the United States, a majority of children receive child care from adults other than their parents and/or outside the home before they first start school. Many children aged 5 to 12 also receive... read more may wonder what the best environment is and whether care by others may actually harm their child. Available information suggests that young children can do well both in their own home and in care outside the home, as long as the environment is loving and nurturing. By closely watching the child's response to a given child care setting, parents are better able to choose the best environment. Some children thrive in a child care environment where there are many children, whereas others may fare better in their own home or in a smaller group.

When the child begins school and receives homework assignments, parents can help by

  • Showing interest in the child's work

  • Being available to sort through questions but not finishing the work themselves

  • Providing a quiet work environment at home for the child

  • Communicating with the teacher about any concerns

As the school years progress, parents need to consider their child's needs when selecting extracurricular activities. Many children thrive when offered the opportunity to participate in these activities, such as playing team sports or learning a musical instrument. These activities may also provide a venue for improving social skills. On the other hand, some children become stressed if they are overscheduled and are expected to participate in too many activities. Children need to be encouraged and supported in their extracurricular activities without having unrealistic expectations placed on them.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: VIEW PROFESSIONAL VERSION
VIEW PROFESSIONAL VERSION
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