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Engaging in Essential Interactions

The early years are the most active period for establishing healthy brain development. In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second. Children from birth to three years of age live directly through their senses creating critical and impactful environment for infants and toddlers.  

Responsive nurturing interaction, serve and return for instance, shapes early infant/toddler brain development and builds connections that allow the development of lifelong skills like problem-solving, communication, self-control, and relationship building creating survival skills and the ability to thrive within family and community.

 The quality of a child’s earliest environments and the availability of appropriate experiences at the right stages of development are crucial determinants of the way each child’s brain architecture develops.

The caregiver-child relationship is built in the moment-to-moment interactions that happen throughout the day. It is worthwhile to consider how everyday care routines offer focused opportunities for responsive and respectful interactions that build your relationship and support a child’s learning. 

Early Learning and Behaviors 

Engaging in Essential Interactions

Engaging in Meaningful Interactions 
Early Environments Matter and Nurturing Relationships are Essential

"The scientific evidence, ranging from behavioral genetics and neuroscience to policy analysis and intervention research, on the significant development impacts of early experiences, care-giving relationships, and environmental threats is conclusive and undeniable.

Virtually every aspect of early human development, from the brains evolving circuitry to the child's capacity for empathy, is affected by the environments and experiences that are encountered in a cumulative fashion, beginning early in the prenatal period and extending throughout the early childhood years. Early experiences shape development and influence children's continued progress along positive pathways."(1) 

One sign of respectful and responsive relationships is that children and caregivers have a variety of meaningful interactions during their time together. When you have meaningful interactions with infants and toddlers you are:








guiding; and

comfortable following children’s lead.

* The following are some ways to engage in meaningful interactions with the infants and toddlers in your care.

Meaning infant responsive interactions


Taking a moment each day to think about how your communication and behavior affect the infants, toddlers, and adults you interact with is a powerful way to develop your awareness and responsiveness. Think about how your personal interactions might affect your relationships. For example, how do your tone of voice, facial expressions, and body posture communicate messages to the people around you?  

  • Slow down. Life is busy, and you have a lot to do each day. Both mother and father and other caregivers provide the extremely valuable service of caring for infants and toddlers. Instead of constantly thinking about what comes next, take a deep breath to help yourself consciously slow down and fully experience what is happening in the moment. For example, rather than rushing through feeding an infant, you might slow down, carefully watch the infant’s cues, engage in back-and-forth communication, and feed at the infant’s pace.

  • Be present. Being present means taking a moment to clear your mind of all distractions so that your focus is only on connecting with children (Dombro, Jablon, & Stetson, 2011). With this focus, you can think carefully about responding to individual children’s cues and needs in that moment.

  • Remember that being with children is the first priority. Helping to support the growth and development of the children in your care is your greatest and most important role, placing all other responsibilities second. When you are faced with many tasks throughout the day, it might be easy to be distracted by doing laundry, cleaning cots, or completing paperwork. It is not easy to be present when other tasks need to be done. Reminding yourself that being present with children is the first and most important role that you play helps you prioritize time and the other tasks that need to be completed. Understandably, there are a lot of tasks to complete as an infant and toddler teacher in a child care center or family child care home. If it feels challenging to balance these tasks with being present with children, you may want to talk with your director or colleagues and develop approaches that will help you keep your focus on the children.

  • Take time to understand children’s individual needs. When working with infants and toddlers, it is important to get to know them as individuals who have unique interests, needs, and preferences. Working to understand each child’s interests, needs, preferences, and culture builds a foundation for connecting with infants and toddlers in meaningful ways.

  • Support children’s learning. When you are in tune with children’s individual needs, you are able to make responsive and sensitive decisions about the next step in each child’s learning (Dombro, Jablon, & Stetson, 2011).

Take the Time to Connect with Children


1. Retrieved From: Neurons to Neighborhoods: National Academy of Science; Committee on Integrating the Science of Early Childhood Development

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