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Knowledge Base » Care » Strategies for Parents to Support Their Child’s Development

Strategies for Parents to Support Their Child’s Development

From the earliest moments of life, the nurturing care, guidance and support provided by parents lay the foundation for a child’s emotional, social and intellectual growth. Parents influence every aspect of a child’s development, instilling values, fostering resilience and nurturing talents. This profound impact is not just about providing basic care, it is about creating an environment where children can explore their potential, build self-confidence and develop the skills necessary to navigate the complexities of life. 

The first three years of life are particularly important and set the stage for a child’s future development. A child’s brain grows to about 80% of its adult size by age three. During this period, the brain forms neural connections at an astonishing rate, laying the foundation for cognitive and emotional development. Experiences during this period have long-lasting effects on brain development, emotional health, social skills and learning capabilities. Ensuring that children receive nurturing, stimulating and supportive environments during these formative years is crucial for their overall well-being and success in life.

To understand child development, we must understand attachment theory. Attachment theory is a psychological framework that describes the dynamics of long-term interpersonal relationships, particularly between infants and their primary caregivers. It was developed by British psychologist John Bowlby in the mid-20th century. The theory emphasises the importance of a secure and stable bond for healthy psychological development. The key elements of attachment theory include:

  • Attachment behaviours – infants are born with innate behaviours, such as crying, clinging and smiling that are designed to ensure proximity to their primary caregiver, which in turn provides them with protection and comfort.
  • Secure base – the primary caregiver acts as a secure base from which the child can explore the world. The presence of this secure base allows the child to feel safe and confident.
  • Safe haven – in times of distress or threat, the child seeks the caregiver for comfort and reassurance, providing a sense of safety.
  • Internal working models – early interactions with caregivers shape the child’s internal working models; these are mental representations of self, others and relationships. These models influence how people perceive and respond to relationships throughout their lives.

Attachment is crucial for child development because it forms the basis for how children understand and interact with the world.


Understanding Developmental Milestones

Developmental milestones are behaviours or physical skills seen in infants and children as they grow and develop. These milestones act as checkpoints in a child’s development to determine what an average child can do at a particular age. The milestones are divided into several areas, including:

  • Motor skills – gross motor skills involve large muscle activities such as crawling, walking and jumping. Fine motor skills involve smaller movements such as picking up objects, writing and buttoning clothes.
  • Cognitive development – this refers to the development of thinking, problem-solving and learning skills. This includes recognising objects, understanding cause and effect, and developing memory.
  • Language development – this includes both verbal and non-verbal communication. This encompasses understanding and using words, sentences, gestures and facial expressions.
  • Social and emotional development – this involves forming relationships with others, developing self-awareness and managing emotions by co-regulation. This includes playing with others, showing affection and understanding social cues.
  • Self-help/adaptive skills – this includes daily living activities such as learning to feed themselves, getting dressed and toilet learning.

Developmental milestones provide a framework for parents to monitor their child’s growth and development, so understanding them is crucial for parents. These milestones serve as checkpoints for physical, cognitive, emotional and social development, helping parents identify if their child is developing as expected. It is also important to note that every child is different and it is important not to overly compare them to their peers.

By being aware of developmental milestones, parents can recognise potential developmental delays early. Early detection is critical because it allows for timely intervention, which can significantly improve outcomes for the child.

Knowledge of milestones helps parents to set realistic expectations for their child’s behaviour and abilities. This understanding can guide how parents interact with their child, fostering appropriate activities that support development. It is important not to have expectations of a child that are too high and not developmentally appropriate, for example it is not appropriate to expect a toddler to be able to regulate their emotions by themselves.

Some other benefits of parents having an understanding of developmental milestones include:

  • Engaging in activities that promote reaching developmental milestones can strengthen the bond between parents and children. Shared activities that are developmentally appropriate can be enjoyable and rewarding for both.
  • Supporting school readiness. Developmental milestones are often linked to school readiness. Understanding these can help parents prepare their child for the transition to school, ensuring they have the necessary social, emotional and cognitive skills.
  • Informed communication with healthcare providers. Parents who are knowledgeable about developmental milestones can have more informed discussions with healthcare providers. They can provide accurate information about their child’s development, ask important questions, and better understand professional advice and recommendations.
  • Reducing parental anxiety. Knowing what to expect in a child’s development can reduce parental anxiety. It helps parents distinguish between typical variations in development and potential concerns that need professional attention.
  • Promoting healthy development. Understanding milestones helps parents create a supportive environment that encourages their child’s development. They can provide appropriate toys, activities and learning opportunities that are aligned with their child’s developmental stage.

Please refer to our knowledge base to read about the different child development stages. 

Creating a Nurturing Environment

Creating a nurturing environment for a child contributes to their emotional, social and cognitive development. Some important aspects of this include:

  • Unconditional love and support – ensure the child feels loved and supported no matter what. This involves showing affection, spending quality time together, accepting them for who they are and where they are in their developmental stage, and being emotionally available.
  • Consistent and positive discipline – set clear boundaries and rules, and enforce them with patience and consistency. Use positive reinforcement and constructive guidance rather than harsh punishment.
  • Encouragement of exploration and learning – provide opportunities for the child to explore their interests and learn new things. Offer age-appropriate challenges and celebrate their efforts and achievements.
  • Healthy communication – encourage open communication where the child feels comfortable expressing their thoughts, feelings, emotions and concerns. Listen actively and respectfully.
  • Create a safe physical environment – ensure the child’s physical surroundings are safe and conducive to play and learning. This includes childproofing the home, and providing stimulating, age-appropriate toys and materials.
  • Routine and structure – establish a predictable routine for meals, bedtime and daily activities. Predictability helps children feel secure and reduces anxiety.
  • Promote independence when appropriate – encourage age-appropriate independence and responsibility. Allow the child to make choices and learn from their experiences, while providing guidance and support as needed. It is important to note that during the early years it is perfectly normal and healthy for a child to want to remain close to their primary caregiver. Deep dependence during this time will lead to independence when this is appropriate.
  • Respect and empathy – model respectful behaviour and empathy towards others. Teach the child to be kind, considerate and mindful of others’ feelings. This does not mean that they should put the needs of others before their own needs. It is important that they are encouraged to set healthy boundaries.
  • Encourage social connections – support the child in forming positive friendships and learning social skills.
  • Monitor media exposure – be mindful of what media the child consumes, including TV, movies and online content. Limit screen time and ensure content is age-appropriate and positive. There is some evidence that suggests that children who have smartphones are more likely to experience poor mental health due to the type of content they can be exposed to and the amount of time they spend looking at a screen.
  • Physical health – a nurturing environment often includes proper nutrition, regular physical activity and healthcare. These elements are vital for a child’s physical development and overall health.
  • Self-care for caregivers – lastly, take care of yourself as a caregiver. Your own well-being and emotional stability are crucial for providing a nurturing environment for the child.

Creating a nurturing environment involves consistency, patience and understanding. It is about creating a space where a child feels safe, loved and supported as they grow and develop into confident individuals. Research has shown that children who grow up in nurturing environments are more likely to become well-adjusted, successful adults. They tend to have higher self-esteem, better mental health, and more fulfilling personal and professional lives. Children who grow up in a nurturing environment are better equipped to handle stress and adversity. They learn coping mechanisms and develop resilience, which helps them navigate challenges throughout life. A nurturing environment fosters curiosity, critical thinking, and a love for learning, which contribute to academic success. 


Encouraging Positive Parent-Child Interactions

A strong bond with parents provides a sense of security and attachment, which is essential for a child’s emotional well-being. Secure attachment helps children feel safe and protected. It is characterised by a healthy bond where a child feels confident that their caregiver will be available to meet their needs. This type of attachment is associated with positive outcomes, such as higher self-esteem and better relationships.

Encouraging positive parent-child interactions is essential for encouraging healthy development and strong relationships. This includes:

  • Spending quality time together – set aside regular time for activities that both the parent and child enjoy. Also allow for spontaneous interactions and play, which can help build a natural and comfortable relationship. Lean into what they enjoy and what interests them.
  • Communicate effectively – show genuine interest in what the child is saying without interrupting. Use encouraging and positive language, focusing on strengths and achievements.
  • Show affection – hugs, kisses and gentle touches can reinforce feelings of love and security. Regularly express love and appreciation verbally.
  • Be a role model – children learn by observing. Show respect, kindness and patience in your actions.
  • Healthy coping mechanisms – display healthy ways to handle stress and emotions.
  • Provide consistent boundaries and discipline – set and communicate clear rules and expectations. Have boundaries in place that are age appropriate and aligned with their development.
  • Engage in joint problem-solving – when appropriate, involve the child in finding solutions to problems.
  • Empathy and understanding – show empathy towards the child’s feelings and perspectives during conflicts.
  • Support decision-making – encourage the child to make choices and support them in learning from their decisions.
  • Encourage open communication – create an environment where the child feels safe to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement or punishment.
  • Ask open-ended questions – encourage more elaborate responses rather than yes/no answers.
  • Participate in educational activities – assist with schoolwork and show interest in their academic progress.
  • Reading together – spend time reading together to foster a love for learning and reading. The early years are a critical period for language development. During this time, children are particularly receptive to learning languages. Exposure to rich and varied language experiences promotes vocabulary growth and communication skills.
  • Celebrate achievements – celebrate not just successes but also efforts and improvements.
  • Special celebrations – mark special occasions and achievements with celebrations, no matter how small.
  • Engage in physical activities – participate in physical activities and sports to promote bonding and healthy lifestyles.
  • Outdoor activities – spend time together outdoors, exploring nature or engaging in recreational activities.
  • Promote emotional intelligence – help the child identify and understand their emotions and let them know that all emotions are acceptable.
  • Expression of feelings – encourage the child to express their feelings in a healthy way.

A child’s relationship with their parents is foundational to their overall development and well-being. It influences their emotional and psychological health, social skills, cognitive abilities, and future life outcomes. The parent-child relationship sets the foundation for future relationships. Healthy interactions with parents often lead to healthy relationships in adulthood, including friendships, romantic relationships and professional interactions. 

Secure attachment with caregivers fosters a sense of security and self-worth in children. They feel valued and confident, which contributes to higher self-esteem and resilience. Children with secure attachments learn to regulate their emotions more effectively. They are better at managing stress, frustration and anxiety because they have experienced consistent emotional support.

Supporting Learning and Skill Development

Supporting children’s learning and skill development at home can be both rewarding and effective. Some practical tips to help you create a nurturing and stimulating learning environment include:

  • Designate a study area – set up a quiet, well-lit space dedicated to studying and completing homework.
  • Organise supplies – keep essential supplies like pencils, paper and textbooks easily accessible.
  • Encourage curiosity – promote a love for learning by encouraging questions and exploration.
  • Encourage reading – provide a range of books appropriate for the child’s age and interests. This can include fiction, non-fiction, picture books and chapter books. Spend time reading together. Discuss the stories and ask questions to develop comprehension skills.
  • Celebrate effort – praise hard work and persistence, not just results.
  • Educational games – use games that promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Hands-on projects – engage in activities like science experiments, art projects and cooking to make learning fun and practical.
  • Incorporate technology wisely – utilise reputable apps and websites that offer educational content.
  • Limit screen time – ensure that screen time is balanced with other activities.
  • Encourage independent learning/play – help children set achievable goals and track their progress.
  • Problem-solving – encourage them to find solutions to problems on their own before seeking help.
  • Provide emotional support – be there to help and listen to concerns.
  • Build confidence – encourage self-confidence by acknowledging their strengths and progress.
  • Discuss emotions – talk about emotions and teach children how to manage them.
  • Stay involved with school – maintain regular communication with teachers to stay informed about your child’s progress and any areas needing improvement.
  • Attend school events – participate in parent-teacher meetings, school events and volunteer opportunities.
  • Model lifelong learning – show your own interest in learning by reading, exploring new hobbies, and staying curious. Take on new challenges and learn new skills as a family.
  • Real-world applications – involve children in everyday activities like shopping, cooking and budgeting to teach practical skills.
  • Field trips – visit museums, zoos, historical sites and other educational venues.
  • Educational games – use games that promote learning in areas such as maths, science and language arts.
  • Creative play – encourage activities like drawing, painting, building with blocks, and imaginative play to develop creativity and problem-solving skills.
  • Exercise – include physical activities in the daily routine. This can be through sports, dance or simply playing outside.
  • Motor skills – engage in activities that develop fine and gross motor skills, such as playing with clay, cutting with scissors or climbing.

Seeking Support and Resources

Seeking support and resources when addressing concerns or challenges related to a child’s development is crucial for several reasons:

  • Early identification and intervention – identifying developmental issues early allows for timely intervention, which can significantly improve outcomes. Early support can mitigate potential challenges and provide the child with the necessary tools to succeed.
  • Expert guidance – professionals such as paediatricians, child psychologists and special education experts can provide valuable insights and strategies tailored to the child’s specific needs. Their expertise can help parents navigate complex developmental concerns more effectively.
  • Access to specialised resources – support services often have access to specialised resources, including therapies, educational materials and support groups. These resources can provide targeted assistance and foster an environment conducive to the child’s development.
  • Emotional support for parents – dealing with developmental concerns can be stressful and overwhelming for parents. Access to support groups and counselling services can provide emotional relief, reducing stress and improving the overall well-being of the family.
  • Building a support network – engaging with professionals and other parents facing similar challenges helps build a support network. This network can offer practical advice, shared experiences and a sense of community, which is invaluable during difficult times.
  • Customised educational plans – educational professionals can help develop individualised education plans tailored to the child’s specific needs. These plans ensure that the child receives the appropriate adjustments and support within the school system.
  • Encouraging positive outcomes – proactive support can lead to better long-term outcomes for the child, including improved social skills, academic achievement, and overall quality of life. It can also help the child develop resilience and adaptability.
  • Reducing parental guilt and anxiety – parents often feel guilty or anxious about their child’s development. Seeking support reassures them that they are taking the right steps to address their child’s needs, reducing feelings of guilt and anxiety.
  • Staying informed – support services provide parents with up-to-date information about their child and what is expected. Staying informed empowers parents to make well-informed decisions.

If you are worried about your child’s development or well-being and you think they need extra support, speak to their GP, health visitor, teacher or nursery worker first. Ask for advice about what to do next to help your child. If you or your child needs more significant support, contact the children’s services team at your local council for a needs assessment to determine if your child needs more specialised support. 

Child development can be negatively impacted by a variety of factors including:

  • Genetic disorders – conditions like Down syndrome, and other genetic conditions, can affect physical and cognitive development.
  • Prenatal issues – poor maternal nutrition, exposure to toxins, such as alcohol, drugs and tobacco, and infections during pregnancy can impact foetal development.
  • Birth complications – premature birth, low birth weight and birth injuries can lead to developmental delays and long-term health problems.
  • Chronic illness – ongoing health issues like asthma, diabetes and epilepsy can affect a child’s physical and cognitive development.

Environmental factors that can impact development include:

  • Poor nutrition – inadequate nutrition can lead to stunted growth, cognitive impairments, and weakened immune systems.
  • Unsafe living conditions – exposure to pollution, lead, unsafe drinking water and inadequate housing can negatively impact health and development.
  • Lack of stimulation – environments that do not provide sufficient cognitive and sensory stimulation can delay language, social and intellectual development.
  • Educational deprivation – limited access to quality education and early childhood programmes can hinder cognitive and social skills.
  • Poverty – children in low-income families often lack access to resources, including nutritious food, healthcare and educational opportunities.
  • Family stress – high levels of stress in the household, often due to financial instability, marital conflict or mental health issues, can affect a child’s emotional and psychological well-being.
  • Neglect and abuse – physical, emotional or sexual abuse, as well as neglect, can have profound and lasting impacts on a child’s development.
  • Parental involvement – lack of parental engagement and support can negatively affect a child’s emotional and social development.
  • Exposure to violence – witnessing or experiencing violence can lead to trauma, anxiety and behavioural issues.
  • Mental health conditions – such as depression, anxiety and ADHD can impede a child’s ability to function effectively in daily activities and social interactions.
  • Lack of social support – limited support from the extended family and community can affect a child’s socialisation and sense of belonging.
  • Discrimination and racism – experiencing or witnessing discrimination can lead to feelings of inferiority, stress and reduced self-esteem.
  • Cultural expectations – rigid cultural norms and expectations can limit a child’s opportunities and freedom to explore their interests and potential.

If you have any concerns that a child is experiencing abuse or neglect, you should contact the NSPCC who will be able to advise you. You can contact the NSPCC Helpline by calling 0808 800 5000 or emailing If a child is in immediate danger, you should call 999. 

Staying informed about developmental milestones and seeking professional guidance when needed ensures that any potential concerns are addressed promptly. Collaboration with educators, healthcare providers and community resources can provide additional support and enrich the child’s developmental experiences.

Supporting a child’s development requires a combination of love, patience and proactive strategies. Parents play a pivotal role in shaping their child’s growth across physical, cognitive, emotional and social domains. By creating a nurturing and stimulating environment, encouraging open communication, encouraging curiosity and exploration, and setting consistent boundaries, parents can significantly influence their child’s developmental trajectory.

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About the author

Claire Vain

Claire Vain

Claire graduated with a degree in Social Work in 2010. She is currently enjoying her career moving in a different direction, working as a professional writer and editor. Outside of work Claire loves to travel, spend time with her family and two dogs and she practices yoga at every opportunity!

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