A new issue brief from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Penn State University details the crucial role that parents and caregivers play in creating the foundation for a young child’s social and emotional development.

The new brief surveys a range of strategies to strengthen adult caregiving and improve young children’s social-emotional development. Key findings from the brief include:

  • Early social and emotional development establishes a psychological foundation for emerging competence across developmental domains and is based on children’s relationships with those who care for them.
  • Social and emotional health is vulnerable to adversity, which affects many young children.
  • High-quality, evidence-based home visitation programs can strengthen early social and emotional development by improving the quality of parental care and adult functioning.
  • Parent skills training programs can significantly improve the quality of parental care and strengthen young children’s SED.
  • Two-generation programs like Early Head Start offer promise for strengthening early childhood SED and parental quality of care through interventions designed for each partner.

During the earliest years of life, a child’s brain is at its most flexible, making this a critical period for learning and growth. Science tells us that children who face adversity in the first years of life, especially those in low-income households, are more at risk for experiencing damage to their brain architecture, which can lead to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health. Prevention through high-quality early learning and care provide the support children need to build a foundation for a healthy and productive future.

Social-emotional learning is essential to a child’s success. When parents and caregivers incorporate social-emotional skills and programing early on, children are better prepared for kindergarten and beyond.

Read the full brief here.