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Encouraging healthy childhood development requires regular verbal and physical interaction with caregivers, explorative playtime, and exposure to a variety of stimuli, like music, the outdoors, animals, and "how to" experiences. A child must also have his physical needs addressed through adequate nutrition, personal hygiene, and proper medical treatment for illnesses and injuries. Although children of different ages need different levels of support in all of these categories, the basic two areas of emotional and physical wellbeing remain.
The first step to encouraging healthy childhood development is nutrition. Children must have a variety of fresh fruits and vegatables for essential vitamins, protein to build muscles and grow bones, and starches and fats to digest protein. For very young children, newborns to three years old, fats from breast milk or formula are extremely important and should not be excluded from the diet.
Many digestive troubles such as gas, constipation, and diarrhea can be cured through a change in nutrition. Many tasty foods, like cheese and beef, contain very little water or cellulose. Reducing the amount of fats and proteins and adding more water and leafy green vegatables can cure constipation. Similarly, reducing acidic fruits can cure diaper rash in infants and sore bottoms in older children. Of course, it is important to monitor a child for allergic reactions to such things as dairy, peanuts, shellfish, and artificial dyes when serving new foods.
Proper hygiene is also imperative to healthy childhood development. Children must bathe or be bathed often and sanitary elimation of urine and feces is critical. Neglecting these needs can lead to serious illnesses caused by parasites and bacteria. Older children have additional needs which occur around the age of puberty. These includes menstrual hygiene, deodorant, and shaving equipment.
Home environment and personal warmth are also basic needs. Children must have appropriate clothes, shoes, and outerwear to maintain their physical health and emotional well being. A safe home environment, free from violence and excessive emotional turmoil, is imperative. Children who grow up in environments where their caretakers are constantly fighting or arguing can have difficulty creating and maintaining relationships and are more likely to express their emotions in the same way.
After a child's physical needs are met, they must be allowed to develop their mental abilities. Children learn naturally, even without guidance, but creating an environment where they can safely explore and play is essential. Curious from an early age, children will develop by exploring toys and books, mimicking adult behavior, and interacting socially. The caregiver is responsible for ensuring that the area where a child plays is free from dangerous objects and potential hazardous situations. Not only does this include sharp items like scissors and knives but also small objects which could be swallowed, poisonious chemicals like household cleaners, unattended pets, and areas or objects which might cause a child to become trapped or strangled.
Children need to experience social and verbal interaction on a daily basis for healthy childhood development. For small children, this develops language skills. For older children, and even young adults, it helps them learn to navigate a variety of social situations.
Caregivers should not rely on school alone to provide this interaction. After all, a child learns a great number of behaviors long before they start school. Children should be spoken to, hugged, kissed, and played with from the moment they are born. Other ways to encourage social and verbal interaction are to read books, play pretend games, attend story time or play groups, and to spend time with other family members and friends.
All children, but especially toddlers and preschoolers, benefit from a variety of stimuli, including playing and listening to music, spending time outdoors with plants and animals, creating art, and exercising through games and sports. Water is also fun, exciting, and important for a child, not only for the experience, but for the opportunity to learn water safety.
As a child grows older and begins to have different responsibilities, like academic studies, sports, clubs, or other interests, the daily interaction with the caregiver is still important. Even when the child is pursuing an interest that the adult is unfamiliar with, like advanced math or playing trombone, the caregiver can still encourage growth with interaction. This can be as simple as listening to a child talk about the interest, attending lessons or meetings with the child, reminding the child to practice, and being present at important events like games, recitals, or initiations.