The Formative Years: Exactly What Happens in the First 8 Years of Life?

During the formative years (0 – 8 years), children observe and learn everything they come across, like no other time in life.

The experiences children go through during the 8 first years of life, also known as the formative years, are very critical for growth, development, and shaping what they become later in life!

What happens is that both mental and physical growths are taking place, and are directly influenced by the interactions they have with parents, the community, and the environment.

During these years, children observe, learn and take everything in like no other time in life! The positive experiences they learn usually manifest in a positive lifestyle, and the negative ones manifest in negative attitudes and behavior as they grow up.

The 0 – 8 are cornerstone years designed to shape them for:

  • better health
  • good manners & social skills
  • efficient executive functions
  • optimal learning abilities
  • prodcutivity

According to the US CDC

Although the brain continues to develop and change into adulthood, the first 8 years can build a foundation for future learning, health and life success.

When parents miss out on investing in children the right way during the formative years, all the wrong things can happen:

Children may lag behind in learning and social skills, lack empathy, are always angry, disregard human life, and be less productive. Ultimately, they become bad parents during adulthood.

So, what happens in the eight first years of life?

1. Child brain grows by over 90 percent before 8

Children are born with ‘empty’ brains and ready to learn new things from the moment they pop out of the womb. Everything hinges on the readiness of parents and caregivers to exploit the virgin brain.

When does it start?

Brain development starts way before birth, and during conception. Following birth, however, its growth goes a notch higher and becomes real.

At birth, the brain of the child only weighs 370 grams, but expands at an average of 1 percent every day, up to the third month. By now, the volume of the brain is almost 65 percent of what it should be, when fully mature.

The brain is actually over 90 percent in volume when a child makes eight years.

Why the rapid growth?

Well, the brain goes through accelerated development during the formative years because it is preparing the child for future health, behavior, and of course learning.

Early brain development is the foundation of human adaptability and resilience, but these qualities come at a price. Because experiences have such a great potential to affect brain development, children are especially vulnerable to persistent negative influences during this period. On the other hand, these early years are a window of opportunity for parents, caregivers, and communities: positive early experiences have a huge effect on children’s chances for achievement, success, and happiness.

Maximizing, optimizing, and making full use of the brain during these first early years is extremely crucial in preparing children for mental and general wellness during adulthood.

2. Executive functioning skills peak during the formative years

Executive functioning skills entail mental readiness in children and adults to positively regulate their actions, emotions, and thoughts. These include the cognitive skills and abilities they need to plan and achieve goals, have self-control, develop a flexible mindset, follow instructions, multitask, prioritize tasks, learn to stay out of trouble, etc.

These skills are critical for learning in addition to physical and cognitive growth. When done correctly, these are enablers of positive lifestyle and behavior for the good of the family and the community.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, children are not born with executive function skills, but rather, they learn them from parents, caregivers, and the community.

Through their actions and responses, parents and caregivers make it possible for children to learn these skills. According to Harvard University Centre on the Developing Child,

Adults set up the framework for children to learn and practice these skills over time by establishing routines, breaking big tasks into smaller chunks, and encouraging games that promote imagination, role playing, following rules, and controlling impulses.

Executive functioning skill acquisition is developed as early as 3 years and is cemented rapidly right up to the 5th year.

Whereas, these skill sets are developed even further through the adolescent years and after, their maturation is extremely critical during the formative years.

What the above observations mean to parents

Children do not have a repeat opportunity to experience the 8 first years of life. Everything must be done right this early if they are to have good health, learn better, become productive, and of course, develop appropriate behavioral traits.

A well-developed brain and executive functioning skills prepare them for the tough times ahead, both in their private and productive lives.

The factors listed below will greatly influence how children maximize these wonderful 8 years for them to be happy and achieve life goals:

1. Bonding with parents, family & the community

The presence of love, care, and happiness, or lack of them matters a lot in early childhood development. A child that feels loved and receives optimal care will evolve into a happy, loving, and caring adult. Parents, caregivers, and the community must take it upon themselves to associate with children appropriately. While at it, they can provide supportive real-life structures to enable children to master executive function skills.

2. Nutrition

Good food will prepare your child for a healthy body and optimal cognition. This translates to healthy adulthood. Nutritious food types rich in healthy minerals should be preferred over junk food. Children should be encouraged to eat plenty of natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and healthy proteins. They should also remember to drink plenty of water.

3. Exposure to toxins, infections and EMF

Toxins in the environment, sickness, and electromagnetic fields are all contributing factors to poor health as they grow up. Children should live and play in safe environments, and use technology safely to avoid related side effects. They are also entitled to medical attention when they fall sick.

4. Physical well-being

Children need room to play and avoid the popular sedentary lifestyle behind computers and gaming consoles. Physical wellbeing is very instrumental in shaping brain development and executive functioning skills. Medium-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) is known to increase blood flow to the brain. This will facilitate the supply the much-needed oxygen and nutrients.

5. Sufficient sleep

Sleep is extremely important in shaping children into healthy adults. Upwards of 8 hours of sleep (at night) is recommended, while the use of technology should be limited in the bedroom. Actually, smartphones and gaming consoles should not be kept in the bedroom – at all. Other encumbrances such as noises and light should not hinder their sleep. Sleep will facilitate cell growth, repair, and detoxification of body organs.

In conclusion, adults are made during the formative years

By conventional standards, adulthood is achieved by the time a child is eighteen years. But science begs to disagree a little by pushing this age further up to 25 and 28. And so do others.

But again you are who you are as an adult because of the complete mechanisms that surrounded your upbringing in the eight first years of life, or simply, the formative years.

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