The crucial first seven years of child’s life play a pivotal role in determining how she turns out as an adult. It is indeed intriguing to realize that these initial years are so important for a child’s growth. More than ever, the parents are under tremendous stress to create an environment that triggers positive mental, emotional, and physical development of their children.

Though studies say that the initial years determine the social skills of a child, it should be kept in mind that these seven years do not completely define child’s future. At the same time, there are certain factors, if taken into account, would result in mindful parenting

Brain Development by the Age of Seven

As per a Harvard study, a child’s brain develops rapidly during the first few years of his/her life. A child forms 1 million neural connections every minute by the time she turns three. These become an intrinsic part of her brain mapping system which formulates her behavioral actions as well as reactions. ‘Serve and return’ interactions are instrumental in creating these unique neural connections in a child.

What are Serve and Return Interactions?

‘Serve and return’ interactions refer to the chain of a child’s display of emotion and in turn the parent or caregiver’s response to the same. As an infant, a child expresses herself by making gurgling sounds or crying. A parent or caregiver may respond by making an eye contact or by hugging or comforting the child. This exchange is an example of ‘serve and return’  interaction. Such defining interactions between a child and caregivers determine how child’s brain forms connections between neurons thereby shaping her behavioral and social skills. 

When an infant becomes a toddler, he/she develops new behavioral traits with each passing day. They can gauge quite distinctly if the parent or caregiver is being responsive to them or not. They indulge in ‘make believe’ games and expect the parent/caregiver to respond. Such ‘serve and return’ instances form the basis of brain mapping and to a remarkable extent may define the child’s emotional responsiveness as they grow.

Now, this information would in most likelihood catch us unaware. We would wonder if we can pull off ‘mindful parenting’ (being present both mentally and physically) at all times. It is crucial to mention here that it is not feasible to be present at all times and to respond to each and every cue. Certain ‘missed moments’ of our child would not necessarily make us bad parents. But, persistent distractions and stress- factors may lead to an adverse effect on a child’s emotional well being.

How ‘attachment style’ affects emotional health

By age seven a child has crossed three out of the eight stages of social development as per  Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. By age six, a child develops a sense of autonomy and finishes actions for a set purpose. Mary Ainsworth with the help of her experiment called ‘The Strange Situation Procedure’ elucidated three kinds of attachment styles that greatly determine a child’s consequential demeanor:

  1. Secure Attachment

Securely attached children display faith in their caregiver and are calmed by the presence of the caregiver. They have confidence and emotional connect with the caregiver owing to the fact that the caregiver has responded to their needs positively. Children who are securely attached are bound to be helpful, giving, responsible and available for others. They in a way embody the environment they have been brought up in and turn out to be sensitive individuals.

2. Insecure-Avoidant

Children who fall under this category are mostly detached with the caregiver. They are emotionally and physically distant from the caregivers. As per the research, such sense of detachment stems in children whose caregivers are often absent when the child seeks them out or do not engage well when present.

3. Insecure-ambivalent/ Resistant

Children falling under this category may apparently seem clingy and seem to be looking out for the caregiver but once the caregiver interacts with them they become distant and ambivalent. They are not soothed by the caregiver’s presence and become incapable of forging new alliances.  This type of attachment pattern stems out from the inconsistent and erratic presence of the caregiver.

This theory validates that a child’s behavioral patterns and consequent responses to her environment are an outcome of the caregiver’s responsiveness towards her. 

‘Mindful Parenting’ is the key?

Thus it is not erroneous to say that if we are responsive to our child’s needs and are there for him/her whenever she seeks us out, then the child is most likely to turn into a secure and emotionally stable individual. The secure attachment pattern takes shape by the time the child is seven years of age. Hence, these formative years are crucial for both the child and the caregiver.

So, ‘mindful parenting’ is definitely the key to positive parenting. Cherish the moments you spend with your child.  By actively engaging with your child you create a conducive environment for healthy neuron connections in the brain. It would not be wrong to say that a self-assured child is a result of mindful of parenting