The First Three Years

The First Three Years

The first sight of your just born baby gives that sudden rush of adrenalin, a sense of euphoria, ‘wow’ what a feeling! Welcome, you have entered into the threshold  of parenthood. A biological responsibility which translates into years of patient loving care, with the objective of making your offspring ‘ready’ for the world.

During her first weeks it may seem as if your baby is not interacting much with you but she is actually paying very close attention to your face and the your voice. During the first three years which are the most important and formative years it is imperative to spend quality and quantity time with the child. According to John T. Bruer, in  the first three years of life in humans, there is a period of rapid synapse formation that connects nerve cells into functioning circuits. This time of rapid synapse formation is the critical period in brain development. The expanding brain is directly influenced by its environment, thus creating an interplay between biological and social environments. Stress and trauma impair optimal brain development while healthy attachment promotes it. When babies are in distress, their brains are not functioning to its potential. This means that all of their regulatory resources must be devoted in trying to re-organize and regain equilibrium. These kind of biochemical alterations in the rapidly developing right brain have long lasting effects . This is all occurring at a period of time when the brain is at its maximum vulnerability to influence and stimulate affecting growth and development. Chronic shifts into this cycle can cause impaired brain development. Thus it is evident that the first three years are really important, it fosters maximum learning and therefore is absolutely essential to have a stimulating environment where the child is expose to a positive learning experiences. The child needs not only cognitive stimulation but physical and socio-emotional stimulation too. Erikson’s developmental stages are based on the ‘needs’ of a child at a particular age. He puts the first three years at a stage called ‘trust vs. mistrust’, where he says the infant will develop a healthy balance between trust and mistrust if fed and cared for and not over indulged or over protected. Abuse or neglect or cruelty will destroy trust and foster mistrust. So these crucial years lay the foundation for your child’s personality. Bowlby, spoke about the attachment in each aspect of his research. He says attachment is a biological necessity. At each developmental point, the infant must have a close attachment with a consistent caretaker, that is the key to survival. While the mother child bond remains prime because of their biological reasons of survival and optimal development, the child develops an array of affectionate bonds, that includes other family members.

The understanding of breastfeeding as an attachment behavior that not only meets the nutritional and emotional needs of the child but helps fortify the mother-child dyad is clear. Bowlby saw the dual purpose of breastfeeding and viewed the attachment as primary. Equally compelling is the impact of the visual connection facilitated by nursing. At about eight weeks of age a babies vision improves and these early visual experiences play an important in development. The mothers emotionally expressive face is the most  potent visual stimulus  the baby encounters. The creation of an intense mutual gaze causes endorphin levels to rise in the babies brain, producing feelings of joy. This emotional circuit causes the mothers endorphin level to rise in-turn, resulting in emotional bonding. 

Co-sleeping is another important area because of baby-mother proximity. Co-sleeping holds key benefits for infant development and survival. Babies cry to signal distress. Its an attempt at communication not manipulation. The first three years when children are most dependent on you and are growing cognitively very fast, they are also forming their socio-emotional foundation, so its absolutely important to ‘be there’ for your child. Giving birth and putting your child in a crèche is going to deprive a lot of areas of growth. 

The primary caretaker has to be consistent, full of love, intelligent enough to indulge in meaningful communication and be alert. A balance between neglect and over indulgence has to be met. Each child is different, thus there could be variations with respect to time she takes to master a particular task (within a certain range of time span). Do not push your child to do something before she is ‘ready’ for it. Enjoy parenting as it is one of the most fruitful experiences for you. The repercussions of faulty parenting at this stage could be detrimental not only intellectually but could also lead to various anxiety disorders and impulse disorders.

References :  1 – J. Bowlby, Attachment and loss1 (New York: Basic Books, 1969/1982). 2 – A. N. Schore, “Effects of a Secure Attachment Relationship on Right Brain Development, Affect Regulation and Infant Mental Health, “Infant Mental Health Journal 22, 1-2(2001):7-66. 3 – R. S. Marvin, “An Ethological-Cognitive Model for the Attenuation of Mother-Child Attachment Behavior, “in T. M. Alloway, et al. (eds.), Advances in the Study of Communications and Affect 3: Attachment Behavior (New York: Plenum Press, 1977), 25-60. 4 – John T. Bruer, “The Myth of the First Three Years (New York Times Company 1999).


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Dr. Yajyoti Singh

Ph.D, Sp. Edu & Developmental Psychologist.

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