Young Children Develop in an Environment of Relationships
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child
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Healthy development depends on the quality and reliability of a young child’s relationships with the important people in his or her life, both within and outside the family. Even the development of a child’s brain architecture depends on the establishment of these relationships. Growth-promoting relationships are based on the child’s continuous give-and-take (“serve and return” interaction) with a human partner who provides what nothing else in the world can offer – experiences that are individualized to the child’s unique personality style; that build on his or her own interests, capabilities, and initiative; that shape the child’s self-awareness; and that stimulate the growth of his or her heart and mind. Young children experience their world as an environment of relationships, and these relationships affect virtually all aspects of their development – intellectual, social, emotional, physical, behavioral, and moral. The quality and stability of a child’s human relationships in the early years lay the foundation for a wide range of later developmental outcomes that really matter – self-confidence and sound mental health, motivation to learn, achievement in school and later in life, the ability to control aggressive impulses and resolve conflicts in nonviolent ways, knowing the difference between right and wrong, having the capacity to develop and sustain casual friendships and intimate relationships, and ultimately to be a successful parent oneself. Stated simply, relationships are the “active ingredients” of the environment’s influence on healthy human development. They incorporate the qualities that best promote competence and well-being – individualized responsiveness, mutual action-and-interaction, and an emotional connection to another human being, be it a parent, peer, grandparent, aunt, uncle, neighbor, teacher, coach, or any other person who has an important impact on the child’s early development. Relationships engage children in the human community in ways that help them define who they are, what they can become, and how and why they are important to other people.