Many new parents are often found asking “What should I do?” In search of help, people often turn to books, their parents, and those around them. Rarely do they have access to professionals that might have ideas they never considered.
Many governments think this is exactly the resource people should have. Over the last several decades, there have been many experiments by governments, academia, and NGOs to see what happens when you send professional parent coaches into people’s homes and give them advice. A two-year long program undertaken during the 1970’s in Jamaica found that children of parents who received visits form paraprofessionals, during which they learned ways to better stimulate their children’s mental development, saw better grades, test results, emotional stability, and incomes even 22 years later. This has led to similar attempts to coach parents in childhood enrichment in several countries in Latin America, South Asia, and Africa. All of which have shown positive results.
However, a project in Brazil plans to outshine all other programs before it.
Programa Criança Feliz, Portuguese for ‘Happy Child Program,’ is an incredibly ambitious educational program based around home visits and parental coaching that has presented itself as a potential cure for many social ailments that have plagued Brazil for decades. The brainchild of Osmar Terra, a Brazilian politician and physician who also holds a master’s degree in neuroscience, the program is designed to help bridge the gap between children born into wealth and poverty that starts long before school does. “Inequality in Brazil starts when children are born,” Dr. Terra explained in this Financial Times article. “By the time they arrive at school, children from wealthier backgrounds have a level of vocabulary that is 40 percent higher than those from more deprived homes. We need to focus on the under-fours to tackle inequality in Brazil.”
Childhood development is a maturational process resulting in an ordered progression of perceptual, motor, cognitive, language, socio-emotional, and self-regulation skills. Thus, the acquisition of skills through the life-cycle builds on the foundational capacities established in early childhood. Multiple factors influence the acquisition of competencies and skills, including health, nutrition, security and safety, responsive caregiving, and early learning. Each are necessary for nurturing care. Nurturing care reduces the detrimental effects of disadvantage on brain structure and function which, in turn, improves children’s health, growth, and development.
Though mechanisms like providing a secure, nurturing environment where the child is cared for and provided with early learning opportunities, parents have can help their child’s early brain development and prepare them for a fulfilling life.