Family meals promote social skills, emotional development and cognitive abilities.

What Is the Family Impact on Early Childhood Development?

by Debra Pachucki

Of all the environmental factors that influence a child’s development, family has the most significant impact. Family members are the first people that young children have regular contact with, and as patterns, interactions and relationships within the family unit develop, so does a child’s understanding of himself, other people and the world around him. Loving, nurturing homes that provide opportunities for growth and bonding are where children thrive.

1. Emotional Development

A family encourages emotional development from the first moments of a baby’s life onward. The bond that forms between an infant and his primary caregivers fosters a range of emotions such as trust, comfort, compassion, empathy and confidence. As children grow and their relationships with family members develop, they learn how to form friendships, manage and communicate emotions in a healthy way and how to overcome obstacles and challenges with others. Making the time to do things together as a family promotes family cohesion, which enhances emotional development in children, and reduces children’s risk of experiencing emotional distress.

2. Social Development

Children begin to develop social skills in infancy from their earliest bonds, relationships and interactions with family members. They perceive and discover communication, collaboration and cooperation by both observing parents and siblings as they interact with each other, and by engaging directly with different members of the family. Families that treat each other with respect and love promote a positive example of social interaction for very young children. Families that spend quality time together -- enjoying activities together and sharing meals at the dinner table, for example -- also promote healthy socialization development in young children by fostering group bonding, communication and sharing.

3. Physical Development

Family members' diet and exercise habits have a profound impact on children’s fitness and nutrition, which is directly related to their overall physical development. Because family members are role models, children learn from, imitate and adopt the behaviors and patterns of parents and siblings. Get the family together for backyard games or exercise challenges to promote healthy fitness among all family members. Limit junk food consumption and encourage children to get involved in preparing healthy family meals to promote good nutrition.

4. Cognitive Development

Family values affect a child’s cognitive development by influencing the way they perceive themselves and the world. Family dynamics shape the way kids think, reason and problem-solve. A strong, loving family unit that spends quality time together can enhance a young child’s academic performance, while decreasing her likelihood of abusing drugs or engaging in other risky behavior as she gets older.

About the Author

Debra Pachucki has been writing in the journalistic, scholastic and educational sectors since 2003. Pachucki holds a Bachelor's degree in education and currently teaches in New Jersey. She has worked professionally with children of all ages and is pursuing a second Masters degree in education from Monmouth University.

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