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The essay is aimed to highlight perception about two essential concepts; wellness and wellbeing from a health model and relate it to early childhood development. In this essay, various factors playing affecting a child’s wellness attainment would be identified and discussed along with the role of early childhood educators in supporting families and children to attain wellness. Wellness and wellbeing are closely related term and are many times used interchangeably. Both these terms are related to good health but where wellness is only related to good physical heath of a person, wellbeing also includes happiness, satisfaction and an ability to successfully function in all social settings(Schuster, et al. 2004). For a person to attain wellness and wellbeing, only absence of illness is not required, in fact, there must be a perfect balance between various factors. These factors have been identified as social or environmental, behavioral, spiritual and cognitive in the Robin’s health model(Torres, et al. 2011). According to this model, if these four elements of human personality are in harmony, a person can attain health and wellness successfully in his life and can develop to his full potential.
Wellness is found to be a personal choice that affects one’s well being and it is precursor for wellbeing. Well being is the contented state of staying happy, healthy and prosperous. A person with strong wellbeing has better ability to interact with other people, more confidence and a positive attitude towards life in comparison to people with poor wellbeing. It has been researched that a person’s long term physical, mental health and emotional health is majorly affected by his childhood and early brain development. Thus, for overall wellness and wellbeing of children, it is essential to avail them with safe environment, responsive relationships and engaging experiences in their early years. Young children spend a major part of their growing hours in childcare centers making it really important for educators to support children and provide them with trusting relationship to ensure their physical, mental, social, creative and spiritual growth and wellbeing (Clark, et al. 2000).
In order to assist children in attaining wellness, it is essential for educators to understand the concept of wellness and wellbeing. Extensive work has been done and various definitions have been coined that all suggest that wellness is not just absence of illness rather it is the interaction of many dimensions that need to exist in equilibrium. There are seven dimensions of wellness viz. physical, emotional, social, environmental, intellectual, spiritual and occupational(Foster and Keller, 2007). Thus, wellness is generally viewed from a holistic perspective and early childhood has been found to be extremely crucial time for lifelong wellness. If at this stage of human development, children are supported and helped to gain physical, social, emotional and cognitive health, it is more likely that they will successfully attain wellness in their life. Their wellness attainment is affected by a variety of factors and following three are the most essential ones:
1. Environment Provided to a Child,
2. Biological Factors
3. Interpersonal Relationships
The environment provided to a person in his early childhood exerts a major impact on his wellness attainment. This environment comprises of the physical environment as well as the social environment. Research suggest that the overall health and wellness of a child is influenced by several exposures that may vary from chemical exposures like air pollutants, water pollutants, biological exposures like bacteria, viruses; noise, radiation and also their home and school settings(Health Canada, 2001). These are the essential components of physical environment of a child and a healthy physical environment is found to be greatly associated with the child’s growth, development and wellness. It can be explained by taking few conditions into considerations such as housing that allow a child enough space to play and explore and is safe from injury, pollutants, infectious agents etc is found to promote wellness. Another factor affecting physical environment is income(Mandler,2004). There must be enough money to meet basic amenities and need of a child like adequate clothes, healthy and nutritious food, access to fruits and vegetables and families need to be free of financial stress. Further, the communities must have assistance program to help people in need like subsidized food, etc. Such programs promote healthy environment and wellness. Education is another essential factor and a child having access to educational books and toys, quality early childhood education programs, has literacy encouraging family, parents’ active involvement in early education and there are community programs to improve early education, then such a healthy physical environment promotes wellness(Helliwell and Putnam, 2004).
The social environment of a child is majorly influenced by his family demographics and processes. The socio economic status, family size & composition, parenting process, learning environment in family and parental health affect a child’s environment and eventually his wellness attainment. These family factors may either exert negative impact or a positive impact, their impact may be more or less and their effect may be at any time in the future. Low socio economic status have been found related to poor health and wellness as children usually have diminished resources as compared to higher status families. Further, family compositions where children are raised by two biological parents tend to attain wellness better than children with single parents or stepfathers. In addition to the composition, parenting process exert a impact over child’s health and wellness as authoritative parenting is found to be related to development of social responsibility, less risk behavior and higher overall achievements in children. Further, the families where education and literacy is promoted, parents are physically and mentally healthy and are not involved in any substance abuse promotes wellness attainment of children(Melendez,2005). For a child’s growth and development, community environment is also important along with family environment. Community where children have access to high quality schools and early education programs and have healthy peer interaction and peer influences attain wellness while a community that exposes children to violence, discrimination or poor social acceptance hamper their healthy growth and wellness.
Biological factors of a person basically involve the way his physical process would unfold and his system’s adaptation to external influences. The pattern of biological responses like a person’s response to stress or primary relationship is affected by biological, cognitive and behavioral processes in one or the other way. Although these factors works from the very basic level like genes and gene expressions but the broad level conditions would be considered like the gender, general health , health practices etc. that exert major impact over children’s wellness attainment. First of all, a child’s gender has a role since boys and girls tend to grow and develop in a different manner, thus have an impact over their wellness and wellbeing. These factors are also determined at different level viz. family level, community level and society level. If a family ha gender stereotyping or if a child faces abuse in family due to his particular gender, then it would hamper the way he attains wellness(Blair & Diamond,2008). Further, if a child lives in a community where both men and women have equal rights, can lead the community and even children rights are protected, then such a community promotes healthy growth of children. In addition, the general heath of a child that may involve his birth weight, premature or full term delivery and even presence of some medical condition would have role to play. A child with healthy birth weight, born at full term and without any medical condition tends to stay healthy and readily attain wellness than a child with compromised birth conditions. The general health is also affected by parents’ health, disability or mother’s prenatal health as any compromised health status of parents would negatively affect child’s general health and eventually his wellness. It is further affected by community support and programs as if there is proper access to quality health facilities and there are community programs to support families and their health conditions(Field,2007).All these factors together contribute to good health and development of children living in a particular community and society. Next essential biological factor is a child’s good mental health and for this it is essential that a child receives warm and nurturing environment, responsive care givers, mother’s good perinatal mental health, stress free family and a supportive community that promotes health and well being of its members. Such an environment would exert positive impact over a child’s mental health and would help him to attain wellness in long term. Finally, the health practices of child including his healthy eating, playing and sleeping pattern, oral hygiene practices, family encouraging physical activities and nutritious food, access to school and early health centers promoting healthy lifestyle habit and the community where breastfeeding is accepted and promoted play essential role in child development and encourage wellness attainment(Shanker and Downer, 2012).
Relationships are found extremely essential in the childhood stage since most of the physical, social, psychological as well as emotional development takes place at this stage and children learn a lot from their relationship with others. Research studies suggest that eye contact and smiles allow a child to engage better with his parents and caregivers and also help him to grow well in a world of relationships(Gerhardt,2004).
Relationship factors like attachment, parenting styles, etc exert an impact over children’s behavior and this behavior includes their emotions, attitudes, values, beliefs and overt behavior. All these factors together further contributes to their lifestyle choices and health and eventually, their wellness. These may include their preventive behavior like avoiding alcohol, smoking, eating balanced healthy diet; social behavior like peer interactions or disease related behavior like keeping health care appointments at priority or modifying a habit as per treatment regime. Research studies suggest that a child’s behavior is mainly driven by his family, peers and social environment and is finally reflected in his physical and mental health and wellness(Torres, et al. 2011). A child continuously faces new developmental challenges from which they gain experiences and their behaviors change. First and foremost is attachment where if the caregivers are available and responsive for a child, help him to develop secure attachment and there are community programs that promote attachment parenting, then such a child grows better and attain wellness better than a child not receiving proper attachment. Further, a consistent parenting style has an impact over child’s development and wellness attainment. There should be parenting programs available and even their rights and responsibilities as a parent must be considered at workplace so that the child experience a parenting style encouraging wellness(McCain, et al.2007).
Finally, social networks where a child having sound relationship with other children and adults is accepted by his peers, lives in an extended family or the family is actively involved in some groups like religious groups or activity group, then there are more chances that such child would attain wellness in his life. Even a society that supports development of diverse interest groups involving whole families and is free from discrimination promotes wellness attainment in children of these families(Ford-Jones, et al.2008).
Role of Educators:
Early years of life of a child acts as a foundation for his growth, development and wellbeing and is one gets a positive start in life, his chances of growing well and attaining his potential increases manifold. On the contrary, a poor start has been found associated with adverse outcomes. Early child care settings and educators are found to play an essential role in children’s life along with their family factors, where they not only support children but also their families to help a child to grow to his potential. It has been found that when educators and families work together, a child’s chances to grow and develop in life enhances and he successfully attains wellness. As stated above, a child’s wellness attainment is affected by his environment, biology and interpersonal relationship; educators can greatly assist in modifying these factors positively and assist a child in achieving success in life.
Educators support children by not leading them rather by guiding them towards the path of their interests. They work to identify individual child’s interests and involve their parents or caregivers to positively move in that direction(Berk & Roberts,2009).
Safety and security is another essential part of children’s healthy development where educators ensure that every child receives a safe environment and his rights are well protected. Children are protected from all kind of harm including abuse, injuries, discrimination and even too much pressure. They are provided with a physically, socially and psychologically safe environment where they can freely work, act and communicate and get equal opportunities. It is ensured by educators that a child attains wellness and develops socially, physically, emotionally and cognitively. They keep in touch with families and even impart essential knowledge and information such as related to effective parenting styles, to enhance their attachment styles, to show caring and supporting attitude to children and also the importance of developing social networks to help develop such abilities in children as well(WHO,2008). Such knowledge helps children to receive an environment where they can develop good interpersonal relationship and successfully attain wellness in life. Mothers are educated to exclusively breastfeed their child for 6 months and parents are asked to provide a warm and nurturing environment at home to help them achieve positive physical and mental health. Even the relationship between a child and parents improve having an overall positive impact. Educators also educate children to develop healthy lifestyle choices like eating balanced and healthy diet, engaging in physical activities and to avoid alcohol or smoking in life. The importance of such behavior is explained t them and their habit is developed in a similar manner. Further, children are provided with quality education services, books, and toys etc that promote their overall development. In addition to this, educators also play many other roles, nurture children, interact and communicate with them, support parents and greatly help children in attaining wellness(Dodge, et al.2002).
Wellness and wellbeing are closely related term however; the concepts are different as wellness is found to be precursor of well being. Wellness is not just absence of illness rather it is a state of good physical and mental health and well being is the state of healthy, prosperous and contended life. For a person to lead a healthy and successful life it is important to attain wellness and this attainment is affected by various factors like environmental, biological and interpersonal relationship in childhood. In fact, not only child’s family exerts a major impact over a child’s wellness attainment, but his educators of early child care setting, community as well as society play essential roles and can either promote or hamper their wellness attainment.
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