NZ high-fliers launch inspiring campaign to help parents shape a child's entire life – in the first 1000 days
Mum Aleshia Rough knows that talking to her two young children is crucial to their development.
She started listing everything she saw during walks with her son Johnny, 3, and 1-year-old daughter Daisy, even though it drew a few perplexed looks from strangers.
"I found out when they turned into toddlers, that they started narrating their own walks. Even at one, my daughter can say the grass is green, there's a letterbox, there is a dog," Rough said.
Now, Christchurch child behaviour psychologist Dr Gaye Tyler-Merrick has developed a new three-step screening system that accurately identifies antisocial behavioural traits in kids at just 3 years old, in order to better prepare them before they go off the rails as teens and adults.
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It builds on the world-famous Dunedin Study, which has found that adults' risk-taking behaviour can be accurately predicted from their behaviour as small children.
With a wealth of scientific research that shows reading, singing and interacting with kids in their first three years has a huge impact on their brain development, some of New Zealand's most respected scientists and doctors are coming together to help parents shape their young children's minds.
Tyler-Merrick and Dunedin Study head Dr Richie Poulton are joined by New Zealander of the Year Dr Lance O'Sullivan and neuroscience educator Nathan Wallis, launching a high-profile campaign called Love Grows Brains to educate parents on how best to interact with their children.
Tyler-Merrick said her work was influenced by the Dunedin Study and Hart and Risley's 1995 longitudinal study that recorded every word spoken at home between parent and child from the age of 7 months to 3 years old.
She encourages parents to talk children as early as when they are in their mother's womb, talk to them as soon as they are born, laugh and sing to give them greater vocabulary they can draw upon later in life.
An expanded vocabulary gives children the ability to express themselves clearly which helps foster friendships away from home. Previous exposure also gives them a leg-up when it comes to reading and writing at school.
Tyler-Merrick said the name Love Grows Brains was quite apt because those interactions are giving parents love to a child and showing their interest.
"Let's remind parents that those simple interactions every day make a huge difference for their child's pro-social pathway in life and success in life," she said.
Aleshia Rough agrees that it can be easy to forget as a parent that the world is so new to a child and that a child is always watching their parents' mannerisms.
A parent may feel time-poor and stressed from working, but there is no better time period to nurture a child's social and emotional development through consistent, loving interactions.
"We've always tried to show love and be responsive, even when we're so tired and we don't want to respond," she says.
"We always respond, every time, and as a result the kids, they themselves, are responsive to other children at kindergarten and at daycare," she said.
The family will feature in the Loves Grows Brains campaign.
Wright Family Foundation chief executive Chloe Wright is the creator of the new campaign. She said she was inspired by research highlighting the first years of a child's life as a crucial and unique opportunity in a child's development. She said parents as first teachers have the most influence in future outcomes for the child.
- Sunday Star Times