The Science of Love – what parents need to know

From birth to age 6, early childhood is a time of extreme and rapid growth and development; when they acquire concepts, skills and attitudes that lay the foundation for lifelong learning. 80% of a young child’s brain development takes place before the age of 5 years. But this phase, should not be seen as mainly the responsibility of teachers or nurses – the role of the parent is absolutely critical. That is why Afrika Tikkun want parents to know how important it is to nurture and demonstrate love to their children.
How can parents do this?
It doesn’t have to cost money or take too much time – there are fun things you can do together that mean a lot. This is something Vanessa Mentor has passionately advocated for 31 years – first as Director of the Gauteng Department of Basic Education’s Early Childhood Development Institute, and now here at Afrika Tikkun as subject matter expert in Early Childhood Development. In February she is challenging all parents at Afrika Tikkun to a different activity each day with their children. If it’s fun and it works perhaps parents can continue to do it.

South Africa’s children continue to be marginalised, excluded and exposed to excessive levels of violence with significant adverse effects. In 2016, a national prevalence study estimated that one in three children are victims of sexual violence and physical abuse before they reach the age of 18 years, whilst 12% of children report neglect and 16% report emotional abuse. Verbal and physical abuse, witnessing domestic violence, severe depression or prolonged absence of the primary caregiver – are likely to have a sustained and adverse impact on brain development.
Parents are the key to turning these statistics around. Healthy relationships and parental love is what experts have described as the “ordinary magic” that helps children reach their potential. Many different studies confirm that parental love and care build resilience in children – meaning that whatever adversity they face, they are able to overcome and bounce back from the challenge.
Studies show that children that are shown nurturing care more frequently by their parents displayed more advanced brain development and were better able to cope with stressful events than those who did not receive equal attention from their mothers. In the absence of safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments, changes in the brain architecture and function may result in aggressive and antisocial behaviour.

Healthy parenting has been found to improve children’s self-esteem, behaviour and food security; reduce educational risks; and enhance cognitive and language development. Fostering secure parent–child attachments early in life, and a nurturing family environment create a foundation for children to survive and thrive even in unsafe environments.
We are encouraging parents and caregivers that as they engage with their children, they will start to see the child’s level of understanding, interaction, and learning increase. The advice we are giving to parents is just be silly, become a child. Think of a memory of you have of playing with your caregiver. Remember the impact that small activity had on you? Children long for their parents to play with them…They feel important, they feel that they matter. They understand what love means from that experience. When a parent and adult shows them that time with them is important, it makes an indelible mark on a child for the rest of their life.
Investing time, joy and imagination in a child will not only protect and develop the child but it is also the best guarantee of future peace, security and prosperity for the community at large.
Members of the public are invited to take part in the challenge February 1-14 by posting photos on social media (Facebook and Instagram). Hashtag #afrikatikkun #valentinesphotochallenge when you post photos of these activities to your social media and stand a chance to win a R1000 shopping voucher for the best photo.

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