This is a common topic of discussion on social platforms like Reddit and Quora.
But, unfortunately, I can’t seem to find many satisfactory points.
That’s the essence of this guide.
To provide clear reasons why infancy is a critical period for child development.
Because IT IS!
That said, let’s get started.
The Reality Of Infancy
Babies aged 0-12 months are usually regarded as Infants.
But the word “infants” comes from the Latin word “infans,” which means “unable to speak.”
So, I’d rather say infants are babies that cannot speak yet, just as the originating word implies.
But let’s keep that aside for now.
Infants come into this world relatively blank—clueless—with no idea how the world works or why they’re even here in the first place.
This is why they spend the first 1-3 years of their lives learning and developing ways of understanding how the world operates.
No one likes to live in uncertainty, not even infants.
And given the high level of unfamiliarity that comes with the world, infants will invariably find a way around the situation, get acquainted, and all that.
It’s a natural behavior for survival.
Furthermore, infancy is critical for child development because it is the stage where they begin to build their foundational knowledge of the world.
Most knowledge they’ll acquire later as they go through life experiences will be built and discerned through the lens of the said foundational knowledge.
Another thing is: Babies are most likely receptive and adaptive during infancy.
Which translates that it is their most vulnerable stage in life.
The stage where they’re most susceptible to external influence.
For this reason, parents must police whatever information or situation their infant is accessible to, especially when they’re exposed firsthand.
I’d like to go further, but let’s keep the rest for the next.
There’s a lot of reality attached to the period of infancy, and that’s what we’ll explore in the next section.
Stay with me.
Reasons Why Infancy Is A Critical Period For Child Development
For the next few paragraphs in this section, I’ll explain why infancy is critical for child development.
It’s The Period Of Bonding
Every infant needs to bond.
That’s because bonding at this stage is one of the support bases infants rely on to manage the high level of unfamiliarity that comes with the world.
Bonding also helps infants to develop the emotional aspect of their lives, which is why bonding with the right person is essential.
Speaking of the right persons, we’re talking about people that’ll positively influence the child’s development.
And such a task naturally falls to the mother, caregivers, and immediate family members.
Bonding is trusting.
So, it involves a certain level of emotional connection.
Which translates that it takes time to establish.
But in the mother’s case, she’ll bond with her child not because she spends a lot of time with the baby but because she does breastfeed the child.
Breastfeeding is one of the major ways infants bond with their mothers.
If you’ve seen cases where infants are breastfed by an older sibling (which, of course, seems weird), you’ll notice the bond between them is much stronger than the other siblings.
Now, apart from the mother, an infant will bond with their caregiver because they spend a reasonable amount of time with them.
I’d also like to point out that caregivers aren’t just…caregivers—infants depend on them for comfort and compassion.
For this reason, it’s not ideal to constantly change the caregiver of infants because such a situation prevents the baby from forming a healthy bond.
And I’m confident you don’t want to put your child on an emotional rollercoaster.
If infants cannot form a healthy bond with those around them, they’ll be starved of comfort and compassion.
Especially if the mother is too busy with other stuff like her job.
And if they cannot get the compassion they crave, they’ll look elsewhere.
Even if it means getting it from strangers (situations like this become apparent slightly after infancy).
If this happens and goes on long enough, it distorts the emotional setup of the child, readjusting their emotional structure to fit a different narrative: finding support elsewhere.
This poses significant problems in the child’s development because their emotional setup has been subconsciously reconfigured to perform differently—now that sounds like a disorder to me.
And you and I can agree it won’t be a pretty situation if it gets to that.
All of it can be avoided by simply paying attention to the child’s needs.
By that, I mean spending time with your child and having a specific caregiver that genuinely cares for your child.
This will set a healthy path for proper bonding and your child’s development.
It’s The Period When They’re Receptive And Adaptive
Babies are overly receptive and adaptive during infancy.
They always seem like they want to participate in every activity around them, always trying to fit in.
They’ll quickly ingest whatever experience they’re exposed to because they don’t have a good sense of judgment.
Everything entices them, including the potentially harmful experiences, but they don’t know this.
It’s not their fault anyway—the world is still new to them, and they are very curious about knowing a lot.
However, as a parent, the period of infancy is one of those moments you must capitalize on to regulate your child’s exposure in a way that suits a good construct.
The activities they’re exposed to during this period will, in many ways, influence their lives after that.
So, if they’re left unchecked to feed off every activity around them, things will likely go south in the long run.
This is because the environment will overload them with too much information.
So much information that they cannot discern right from wrong because of their underdeveloped sense of morals.
It’s The Period They’ll Accumulate Foundational Knowledge Of The World
I must’ve mentioned this in the previous paragraphs, so I want to give details now.
As I said, infants have zero ideas of how the world works.
Faced with such a situation, social survival isn’t assured.
And just as we know it, babies are naturally social and need that part of themselves to function.
So, to survive, they need to understand the world and can’t understand it unless they accumulate specific knowledge about it.
And so, the infancy period is where babies begin to accumulate foundational knowledge of the world, learning how to interpret and interact with their immediate environment.
This knowledge will be based on activities and other experiences they’ve been exposed to, whether firsthand or not.
Furthermore, this knowledge will be the basis upon which every other knowledge will be built as they go through life.
Taking this further, this is the point where they begin to develop their schema—a habitual framework of practices that people use to interpret and interact with the world.
Schema is necessary to survive the world; babies will naturally develop theirs during infancy.
So, if, for instance, a child deliberately hits their head on a crib bar and sees that it’s a painful act, the brain will record such experience and store that information in a particular model (schema) somewhere in the brain.
Subsequently, when the infant comes in contact with cribs or any other hard surface, they’re caught up between feeling the need to hit their head and FEAR due to the previous painful experience.
No one likes a painful experience, so they’ll instead hit it gently or not do it.
It’s also safe to say they’ve understood the law of cause and effect.
This is one of the countless pieces of knowledge that’ll serve them as they develop.
Development Of Spatial Awareness
This is part of the foundational knowledge we discussed earlier, but I just had to single this out because of how important it seems.
In case you’re wondering….
Spatial awareness is understanding your body position in relation to your immediate surroundings, including objects and other people.
Spatial awareness makes a person understand how big or small they are and the spaces they could fit in, and it also helps prevent bumping into stuff.
Most babies lack spatial awareness, which is why it’s common for them always to hit themselves on things around them – they’re still figuring out the size of their bodies.
However, spatial awareness is a skill that can be learned during infancy, and its development will influence the later phases.
When infants begin to gain balance themselves, it’s because spatial awareness has been developed.
When they’ve understood their body positioning while performing any locomotive movement, it’s because spatial awareness has been developed too.
Spatial awareness has also been developed even when they can navigate the house freely and no longer bump into stuff.
The list is endless, but let’s stop here.
Of all the phases a person will invariably go through during development, infancy will influence the later stages.
In other words, the effectiveness of the later phases, to an extent, will depend on infancy’s healthiness.
And like I’ve said, it’s because the infancy period is where foundational knowledge is built and structured.
Infants are shaped according to the kind of experiences they’re exposed to.
So, as a parent or caregiver who wants to ensure the proper development of their infants, it’s your job to selectively expose your baby to only experiences that suit their underdeveloped sense of judgment.