Your child explores their world


As your young child grows, their brain is constantly developing. The first three years of life are very important for brain development as the brain changes quickly during this time. By the age of three, your child’s brain will be about 80% of its adult size, compared with their body, which is about 50% of adult size.You have a crucial role to make sure your child gets support for their brain to keep developing well. To do this:

  • keep providing a safe, secure and loving environment for your baby as they develop into a toddler.
  • respond to your child’s needs. Your care needs to be linked closely to their needs and interests as they grow and change. This can bring many new challenges.
  • let your young child explore as much as possible within reason.

The exploring/learning process

Exploring their world is a vital part of growing and learning for your child. Young children seem to want to do things that make you say “no”. They are seeking and constantly testing the boundaries. For example, they may start eating the cat’s food. Your child has seen their own food in a bowl, and made the connections:

  • “I’ve got a bowl…”
  • “I get yummy food in my bowl…”
  • “Is the cat’s food yummy, too?”

This is actually a very important process. It is the start of your child making sense of their world, and going through the first steps in a process of scientific enquiry. Your child is starting to test out their actions in the wider world. This follows earlier stages of ‘cause and effect’ enquiry such as “what happens when I drop my bowl off the table?”

Balancing exploration and safety

It is an essential part of your child’s development to explore and find out what happens when they take a particular action. Your role is to allow them to explore but also keep them safe – as well as protecting other children and precious objects.

To make sure that your child is learning safely, and continuing to explore their world without you saying no all the time:

  • ensure that the environment is as safe for exploring as possible
  • pay close attention to your child so you can intervene, distract and re-focus their attention before they get frustrated
  • talk calmly with them to explain the reasons
  • help them to learn the rules so that they can explore and be safe.

How should I react to my child’s exploring?

How you deal with your child’s exploring is really important for your child.

  • Allowing them to explore freely is important but increases the chance that your child will want to do things that you don’t want them to do.
  • While exploring and going through learning processes, your child also needs to learn rules that will keep them safe, such as not to eat the cat food.
  • To keep them safe, your initial reaction may be to say ‘no’, get angry, or take the cat food away.
  • Explain carefully and calmly why they can or can’t do something, so they can understand the reasons.
  • You may have to do lots of repetition here, so that they learn the ‘rules’.

Exploring and learning can be stressful

Your response may create a negative feeling or stress in your child. They know something is wrong. Your child needs to understand and learn why you have reacted that way. Talk calmly to your child.

Remember that:

  • your child will be learning something new by being stressed. The stress has a physical or chemical effect on their brain.
  • it is important that they don’t stay stressed for long.
  • they will also be learning how to calm themselves down.

You are helping them to gain the skills they need for learning. Practice makes perfect and your patience and support are critical.

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