It is an irony that most of our learning is done before we even go to school. The brain is developing at an accelerated rate for the first two years of life and what is learned here sets the stage for everything that is to come. Development is ‘front-loaded’ to enable us to predict what kind of environment we are likely to encounter and adapt to it.
There is no question that if we want to create a better world this is the most effective place for society to invest its resources. What would an enriched early environment look like? The primary development task for childhood, and particularly infancy, is self-regulation. The caregiver acts as an ‘auxiliary cortex’ whose job is to keep the infant regulated and in balance. Whether hungry, tired, or distressed when the caregiver responds to the infant’s signals it learns to have positive expectations of others and to see the world as a fundamentally good place. They associate pain and discomfort with the pleasure of relief that comes from a caring other. These experiences are imprinted into the developing brain as the social world becomes embedded within the infant’s nervous system.
It takes a village to raise a child. A tired, stressed, bored, distracted, depressed or addicted caregiver is a significant risk factor for the development of pathology. Caregivers must be resourced and supported to the hilt in the first two years at least. Infant brains require adult brains that are present, can attune, resonate and respond to their emotional communications consistently.