Expert Commentary: Early Childhood Development Explained

Two of my children are expecting babies this spring - two more boys.

That makes five grandsons and one granddaughter for us. Expecting babies is an exciting time for the whole family. I was able to witness the new 3-D ultra sound, so even what a child looks like is right out there in the open.

I work with my pregnant daughter. It's a real blessing. And one thing that I am reminded of as I watch her tend her six year old and her three year old while she pats her belly is that from the beginning – from the womb, we must acknowledge that the parent is the primary educator of the child, and that's the way it should be.

It happens naturally. A child will learn happily from his parents and his parents' responses to him. At birth he is held by any number of people, but he only settles down when he is finally placed in mommy's arms. He smells her, he is warm, her touch is pleasant, and the safety factor begins to be taught – by mother.

As the days pass, a child learns physically through his senses, first by smell, then by touch, by hearing and taste, and finally sight. Senses are a marvelous world to discover and we can see that discovery in those wonderful facial expressions as "stuff happens."

It's all truly remarkable to watch a child begin to understand the world. When food is introduced for the first time, especially breast milk, a child nearly laughs with excitement. It's the most wonderful thing in the world – taste is added to the security he feels in mother's arms and the lesson of food, warmth and touch is all folded into a wonderful package. In addition to all his experiences of the natural world, a child also begins experiencing the deeply intricate spiritual world.

Humans are passionate creatures. We triumph, we suffer, we rejoice, we cry, we avoid, we desire, we are fearless, we are frightened, we love and hate and we are angry, and these things are learned early by discovery and experience.

There are eleven passions, and in the first year a child learns about the passions of pleasure and pain through his senses and also with the help of his parents. He learns the pain of waiting, the pleasure of receiving. He learns hunger and satiation, he learns about thirst and rescue. Safety is made whole.

Experiencing the passions of pleasure and pain under the watchful eye of loving parents helps a child to trust. Trust is a significant teaching tool. It's probably the most important key to learning in his life. It allows a child to feel safe, so he reaches out. Trust is a compromise between parent and child. It's the compromise that will last throughout his childhood.

Children who spend a great deal of time outside of their mother's reach need the same things offered by a loving provider. A childcare provider can never be a child's mother, but she can be a concrete example of safety and trust. Trust is the primary element in teaching about love.

Trust and love allow a child to understand where his humanity rests, that his existence is important, that he matters, that he counts as important in the lives around him. He needs both a mother and a father to complete this task. The mother offers the child something called unconditional love, and the father seconds that while he places the supreme value of being alive upon him.

The human experience is a monumental accomplishment. Without the parent, the child is all but lost. The goodness of what it means to be a parent is without measure. When I see the excitement on the faces of my daughter and her husband, and hear the hopes and dreams in their voices, it makes me think about the human connection and how blessed it is.