First Seven Years of Childhood: Are They the Most Important? (2023)

First Seven Years of Childhood: Are They the Most Important? (1)Share on Pinterest

When it comes to child development, it’s been said that the most crucial milestones in a kid’s life occur by the age of 7. In fact, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.”

As a parent, taking this theory to heart can cause waves of anxiety. Was my daughter’s overall cognitive and psychological health truly determined in the first 2,555 days of her existence?

But like parenting styles, child development theories can also become antiquated and disproven. For example, in the 1940s and 50s, pediatricians believed feeding babies formula was better than breastfeeding them. And it wasn’t long ago that doctors thought parents would “spoil” their infants by holding them too much. Today, both theories have been discounted.

With these facts in mind, we have to wonder if any recent research backs up Aristotle’s hypothesis. In other words, is there a playbook for parents to ensure our kids’ future success and happiness?

Like many aspects of parenting, the answer isn’t black or white. While creating a safe environment for our children is essential, imperfect conditions like early trauma, illness, or injury don’t necessarily determine our kid’s entire well-being. So the first seven years of life might not mean everything, at least not in a finite way — but studies do show these seven years hold some importance in your child developing social skills.

Data from Harvard University shows the brain develops rapidly during the first years of life. Before children turn 3 years old, they’re already forming 1 million neural connections every minute. These links become the brain’s mapping system, formed by a combination of nature and nurture, especially “serve and return” interactions.

In a baby’s first year of life, cries are common signals for a caregiver’s nurturing. The serve and return interaction here is when the caregiver responds to the baby’s crying by feeding them, changing their diaper, or rocking them to sleep.

However, as infants become toddlers, serve and return interactions can be expressed by playing make-believe games, too. These interactions tell children that you’re paying attention and engaged with what they’re trying to say. It can form the foundation for how a child learns social norms, communication skills, and relationship ins and outs.

As a toddler, my daughter loved playing a game where she’d flip off the lights and say, “Go to sleep!” I’d close my eyes and flop over on the couch, making her giggle. Then she’d command me to wake up. My responses were validating, and our back-and-forth interaction became the heart of the game.

“We know from neuroscience that neurons that fire together, wire together,” says Hilary Jacobs Hendel, a psychotherapist specializing in attachment and trauma. “Neural connections are like the roots of a tree, the foundation from which all growth occurs,” she says.

This makes it seem like life stressors — such as financial worries, relationship struggles, and illness — will severely impact your child’s development, especially if they interrupt your serve and return interactions. But while the fear that an overly busy work schedule or that the distraction of smartphones may cause lasting, negative effects can be a concern, they don’t make anyone a bad parent.

Missing occasional serve and return cues won’t halter our kid’s brain development. This is because intermittent “missed” moments don’t always become dysfunctional patterns. But for parents who have continuous life stressors, it’s important to not neglect engaging with your children during these early years. Learning tools like mindfulness can help parents become more “present” with their kids.

By paying attention to the present moment and limiting daily distractions, our attention will have an easier time noticing our child’s requests for connection. Exercising this awareness is an important skill: Serve and return interactions can affect a child’s attachment style, impacting how they develop future relationships.

Attachment styles are another crucial part of child development. They stem from the work of psychologist Mary Ainsworth. In 1969, Ainsworth conducted research known as the “strange situation.” She observed how babies reacted when their mom left the room, as well as how they responded when she returned. Based on her observations, she concluded there are four attachment styles children can have:

  • secure
  • anxious-insecure
  • anxious-avoidant
  • disorganized

Ainsworth found that secure children feel distressed when their caregiver leaves, but comforted upon their return. On the other hand, anxious-insecure children become upset before the caregiver leaves and clingy when they come back.

Anxious-avoidant children aren’t upset by their caregiver’s absence, nor are they delighted when they reenter the room. Then there’s disorganized attachment. This applies to children who are physically and emotionally abused. Disorganized attachment makes it difficult for children to feel comforted by caregivers — even when caregivers aren’t hurtful.

“If parents are ‘good enough’ tending and attuned to their kids, 30 percent of the time, the child develops secure attachment,” says Hendel. She adds, “Attachment is resilience to meet life’s challenges.” And secure attachment is the ideal style.

Securely attached kids may feel sad when their parents leave, but are able to remain comforted by other caregivers. They’re also delighted when their parents return, showing that they realize relationships are trustworthy and reliable. As the grow up, securely attached children rely on relationships with parents, teachers, and friends for guidance. They view these interactions as “safe” places where their needs are met.

Attachment styles are set early in life and can impact a person’s relationship satisfaction in adulthood. As a psychologist, I’ve seen how one’s attachment style can impact their intimate relationships. For example, adults whose parents cared for their safety needs by providing food and shelter but neglected their emotional needs are more likely to develop an anxious-avoidant attachment style.

These adults often fear too much close contact and may even “reject” others to protect themselves from pain. Anxious-insecure adults may fear abandonment, making them hypersensitive to rejection.

But having a specific attachment style isn’t the end of the story. I’ve treated many people who weren’t securely attached, but developed healthier relational patterns by coming to therapy.

While the first seven years don’t determine a child’s happiness for life, the rapidly growing brain lies down a sturdy foundation for how they communicate and interact with the world by processing how they’re being responded to.

By the time kids reach first or second grade, they begin to separate from primary caregivers by making friends of their own. They also start to long for peer acceptance and are better equipped to talk about their feelings.

When my daughter was 7 years old, she was able to verbalize her desire to find a good friend. She also began putting concepts together as a way to express her feelings.

For example, she once called me a “heartbreaker” for refusing to give her candy after school. When I asked her to define “heartbreaker,” she accurately responded, “It’s someone who hurts your feelings because they don’t give you what you want.”

Seven-year-olds can also make deeper meaning of the information that surrounds them. They may be able to talk in metaphor, reflecting an ability to think more broadly. My daughter once innocently asked, “When will the rain stop dancing?” In her mind, the movement of raindrops resembled dance moves.

It might not sound aspirational, but parenting “good enough” — that is, fulfilling our children’s physical and emotional needs by making meals, tucking them into bed each night, responding to signs of distress, and enjoying moments of delight — can help children develop healthy neural connections.

And this is what helps build a secure attachment style and helps children meet developmental milestones in stride. On the cusp of entering “tweendom,” 7-year-olds have mastered many developmental childhood tasks, setting the stage for the next phase of growth.

Like mother, like daughter; like father, like son — in many ways, these old words ring as true as Aristotle’s. As parents, we can’t control every aspect of our kid’s well-being. But what we can do is set them up for success by engaging with them as a trustworthy adult. We can show them how we manage big feelings, so that when they experience their own failed relationships, divorce, or work stress, they can think back to how Mom or Dad reacted when they were young.

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Juli Fraga is a licensed psychologist based in San Francisco. She graduated with a PsyD from University of Northern Colorado and attended a postdoctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley. Passionate about women’s health, she approaches all her sessions with warmth, honesty, and compassion. Find her on Twitter.


Why are the first 7 years of a child's life so important? ›

One of the main reasons is how fast the brain grows starting before birth and continuing into early childhood. Although the brain continues to develop and change into adulthood, the first 8 years can build a foundation for future learning, health and life success.

What years are the most important in a child's life? ›

Recent brain research indicates that birth to age three are the most important years in a child's development. Here are some tips to consider during your child's early years: Be warm, loving, and responsive. Talk, read, and sing to your child.

Are the first 5 years of a child's life the most important? ›

One of the most critical stages of development and learning is from birth to five years old. The first five years of child development are crucial to their health, wellbeing, and the overall trajectory of their lives in a variety of ways.

Why is 7 years old important? ›

At this age, children are starting to develop a very important trait—one that they will carry through life: empathy. 2 “They are developing the ability to understand the perspectives of others and learning how to manage their emotions better,” says Rooker. “They are also becoming more empathetic.”

Why is being the oldest child important? ›

On average, oldest children have the highest test scores and GPAs of their siblings, but no one really knows why. Popular theories include: the oldest gets more attention since they have alone time with parents before the others are born, and having to teach younger siblings can have the effect of extra studying.

Which is the most important need of a child? ›

The eight things kids need to thrive
  • Security. Kids must feel safe and sound, with their basic survival needs met: shelter, food, clothing, medical care and protection from harm.
  • Stability. Stability comes from family and community. ...
  • Consistency. ...
  • Emotional support. ...
  • Love. ...
  • Education. ...
  • Positive role models. ...
  • Structure.

Is the first 7 years of a child's life? ›

The formative years or the early stages of childhood are between 0-8 Years of a child's life where they learn more quickly than at any other time in life. These are the years in which a child experiences rapid cognitive (intellectual), social, emotional, and physical development.

What stage of life is the most important? ›

The most important phase of life is the first few years when you are a child. That's when the brain grows really fast – faster than any other time in our life. The brain makes [more than 1 million] new connections every second!

What are the hardest years of raising a child? ›

For some parents, infancy is the hardest. For others, it's toddlerhood. Some parents feel that the preschool years present special challenges.

Why the first 6 years of life is most important? ›

During the first six years a child's brain develops faster than during any other period of life and its early development will set course for any future evolvement. During this period the base for a successful education in the future can be laid.

How important are the first 5 or 6 years of life in shaping our personalities? ›

The experiences in the first five years are crucial to the development of social skills, personality, cognitive skills, thinking skills, decision-making, ability to concentrate and behaviour, she says.

Why are the first 5 years of life extremely important for a child's brain development? ›

During the first five years, 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 are more at risk for experiencing lifelong effects from toxic stress.

What is the milestone of 7 years old? ›

By this time, children can dress themselves, catch a ball more easily using only their hands, and tie their shoes. Having independence from family becomes more important now. Events such as starting school bring children this age into regular contact with the larger world. Friendships become more and more important.

What is the morality of a 7 year old? ›

Kids (7-10 years):

Your child will develop a strong sense of what he should and should not do. They would want to participate in making rules. Children of this age develop a sense of fairness and understand the necessity of rules.

What is the memory of 7 years old? ›

The researchers found that between the ages of 5 and 7, the children remembered more than 60% of the events, but by the ages of 8 and 9, this had fallen to less than 40%. But these memories aren't always gone for good.

Is the oldest child more successful? ›

They are also more likely to have higher academic abilities and levels of intelligence than their younger siblings. These qualities are believed to make firstborns more successful.

Is it better to be the oldest or youngest child? ›

Studies show that older students often outperform their younger peers in the early years, but the older kids typically lose their advantage in the long run. In fact, some research shows that the younger students who have to strive to keep up with the older kids ultimately become more successful.

Is it better to have kids later in life? ›

Several studies agree that there is a positive association between delayed motherhood and longevity. A 2015 study showed that women who have their last child after age 33 are more likely to live to 95. Another study showed that having children later in life is “positively related to aspects of cognition later in life.”

What kids need most from parents? ›

Here are the top 15 things kids want from their parents:
  • A Good Goodnight. Going to bed is so much better when parents spend some quality time with their children. ...
  • Affection. ...
  • Private Time. ...
  • Positive Food Advocates. ...
  • Plans to Look Forward To. ...
  • Conversations Before Bedtime. ...
  • Time to Play Outside. ...
  • Time to Watch Their Favorite Show.
Jan 28, 2021

What are the two main needs of the child they are? ›

The basic needs of a child can be simplified down to just two things: love and limits.

What is the importance of every child? ›

Children are considered as a form of God. Their innocence and good heart is all that is needed to light the mood up.

What happens to the brain at 7 years old? ›

At this stage, children typically:

Expand vocabulary skills, allowing for expression of interests, thoughts and feelings—typically in great detail. Use language skills as a means of socialization. Learn to tell time. Begin to enjoy dramatic play and assume different roles.

At what age do kids realize they are alive? ›

Sometime between 15 and 24 months, children take a large step in self-awareness.

What age is early part of life? ›


This early childhood stage spans from eighteen months to three years old.

Which stage of life is most difficult? ›

Adolescence is a period in which young individuals begin to assume adult positions socially. Note: Adolescence is the most difficult period of one's life. There are far too many significant life changes occurring in one's life, such as physical, psychological, and behavioural changes.

What are the 4 important stages in life? ›

Asrama system
Āśrama or stageAge (years)Rituals of transition
Brahmacharya (Student's life)Till 25Upanayana at entry. Samavartana at exit.
Grihastha (household life)25–48Hindu wedding at entry.
Vanaprastha (retired life)48–72
Sannyasa (renounced life)72+ (or anytime)

What are the 4 most important stages of life? ›

The Four Stages of Life

Life consists of infancy, youth, the middle years and old age. Each stage is an important and beautiful time of growth, learning, caring and sharing in a special and unique way.

What is the concept of death for a 7 year old child? ›

Middle Years (7-10)

This age group may want to see death as reversible, but they begin to see it as both final and universal. Children in this age group sometimes visualize death in the form of a tangible being such as a ghost or boogeyman.

Why are the first five years of a child's life is considered as golden years? ›

As mentioned earlier golden age for the development of children is under five years to say his skills as understanding, mutual communication, gross motor, fine motor, speech, etc. and development of children in this age screening to identify developmental problems and provide treatment [6,7].

Why is the first 1000 days of life important for a child? ›

A child's first 1,000 days of life are the most delicate and important for laying the foundation for their healthy growth and development. Changes in the results of birth and growth and newborn stunting have been demonstrated by dietary support for the first 1,000 of life.

What happens at the age of 7 to a child? ›

By this time, children can dress themselves, catch a ball more easily using only their hands, and tie their shoes. Having independence from family becomes more important now. Events such as starting school bring children this age into regular contact with the larger world. Friendships become more and more important.

At what age are fears about death the greatest? ›

The presence of death anxiety is reported to peak in middle age and disappear in the elderly (20, 24, 25).

At what age do children comprehend death? ›

Children aged 2 to 5 years

They can begin to use the word 'dead' and develop an awareness that this is different to being alive. Children of this age do not understand abstract concepts like 'forever' and cannot grasp that death is permanent.

Which of the following aspects of death do most children by the age of 7 finally understand? ›

Between the ages of 7 and 11, or during Piaget's concrete operational stage, children now understand that death is final and that it is universal. They understand that a loved one will not return and therefore may develop a deep sense of sadness and loss upon learning of someone's death.


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