What are the parenting principles for raising happy, well-adjusted children? Here the focus is on cultivating the innate need to explore.
Right from birth, babies are explorers. They come equipped with the skills to scan their world for interesting information and process it in a meaningful way. Stick your tongue out at a newborn … and they may stick their tongue out too. Watch as babies orient to your voice when you are not right in front of them. Stroke their cheek and observe the rooting reflex. All this happens very early, before they can get around on their own.
The principle of exploration should be cultivated at every developmental stage. You won’t be doing damage to a baby’s brain by letting them look at a screen – but they will explore much more if you interact with them because they will be scanning your face for all kinds of signals that are constantly changing. Well before they walk they are equipped to use their developing motor skills to not only move around their world but to get to things they want to touch – that’s why crawling is so important for cognitive development. Walking babies and toddlers are moving about to explore. While it’s up to you to give them safe boundaries and set parameters, understand that they are trying to soak up information – so help them do that as safely as possible, and as much as possible.
What about the toddler years? Maybe it’s a little annoying, but banging on a pot in the kitchen is the stuff of cognitive exploration. They don’t need anything fancy – they can do plenty with an empty box, or a blank piece of paper and crayons. Arts and crafts should be paramount, as all that fine motor manipulation is not only important in its own right, but in fact promotes higher order cognitive processes. Take them with you and treat your outings as chances for them to explore. It’s not just the grocery store – it’s a large structure with all kinds of sensory stimulation and people to observe. Share their wonder and encourage them to take it all in.
As they get older, give them lots of opportunities to try lots of things. Parenting culture favors overspecialization at younger and younger ages. Who knows what a kid will want to do when they are older? Give them a chance to try out a lot of things – in part to send the message that they should feel free to explore and figure out what they want to do more of when they are of age. No matter what age, they should always have a sense of wonder about the world.