Early experience is the stuff that makes us for life

Children do not enter the world as a blank slate, whatever else they arrive with two things are obvious, they arrive with a unique personality and a full blown will. The former is usually a source of wonder, the exercise of the latter the cause of premature grey hairs for probably every parent in the history of the world.

Babies, all being well, emerge ready for life, not just physically but mentally and psychologically. Two other things quickly become obvious, babies express their needs with unrestrained gusto and, certainly for many, if not most, first time parents quickly discover how ill prepared they are to meet this force of nature. Every child is a learning process for both child and parent/s, no two children are the same, for some it is a grand adventure, for others, sadly, not so. How child and parent/s develop creates the mental, psychological and emotion linkages that the child will carry for life. 

Everyone who has crossed the frontier from dependence to psychological separation from their parents knows how complete this is, there is no turning back. Until that time children are locked in a symbiotic relationship with their parents/carers. This relationship for the child is complete and all encompassing, indeed boundless. The child has no conscious volition or choice about this, no psychological or emotional way to rationalise it, it is an all encompassing experience, it is their world. 

Children embark on a journey of age appropriate development, it is, for example, impossible for a child under two to grasp the concept of sharing. Children can only do what they are ready to do, be it walking, potty training or learning to share. It is an orderly process providing there is no physical or psychological reason that disrupts this. 

Babies emerge into the world raring to go, they are living, growing, learning creatures, they require no training or teaching to do this, it is something they naturally are. Indeed, at this stage it is who they are, it their job, their vocation and purpose. Naturally, parents have to keep a ready eye on this unrestrained explosion of curiosity, crawling into a fire to check it out is probably not in the best interests of the child, but the child simply doesn't know this. So parents, as custodians, have the task of not just feeding, clothing, sheltering and nurturing this new life, but of keeping the child safe. 

(1) The language we use on children, is the language they will learn to use for themselves and on themselves. These little learning sponges will apply everything to themselves, they have no discernment or barriers to this, whether they are treated as welcome, encouraged and praised, or unwelcome, called bad or stupid and punished, they will soak it all up, wear it and live it. 

Parenting then is, perhaps obviously, utterly crucial, understanding what parenting means and its impact is perhaps less obvious and has been poorly related by many well meaning child development 'experts' in the past. 

Each child is unique, each child will inexorably learn, it is we who must also learn with them.


2011 Keith Lindsay-Cameron.