When I was a little girl my parents told me that I could be anything that I wanted to be.
By the time I entered the third grade, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to become a writer. My Mom says there was a short-lived phase when I would only communicate through writing.
My Mom and Dad nurtured my early, yet perplexing interest in words and non-verbal communication (unless my behavior became disruptive). They provided an endless supply of books and diaries that were used as learning tools to improve literacy skills; to discover the world; to express myself creatively; and to vent my childhood frustrations and desires – all from the comfort of my bedroom.
By middle school, I preferred to occupy any amount of free time by reading. I can recall being scolded for bringing books to the dinner table and for staying up past my bedtime to read and write. My Mom often mentions that my opinions on what having fun meant were different than those of most young children.
"Sometimes, I still don't know where you came from...you have always just been very different. You didn't like to play with toys or outdoors, you really loved hanging around adults and listening to us tell stories," she recalls.
My childhood experiences have created positive memories that I often reflect upon. I vividly recall the enjoyment I gained from eavesdropping on or seeing how long I could get away with fading myself into the background of a robust "grown folks business" conversation, before being caught and immediately sent outside or upstairs to play with the other kids.
I also remember the excitement and the sense of fulfillment I experienced from completing the latest Judy Blume or R.L. Stine "Goosebumps" book, or from filling blank pages in a new journal by creating my own short stories and occasional poems.
As my love and passion for reading and writing flourished throughout high school and college, my career goals crystallized.
I now understand that if it were not for my parents' encouragement and their nurturing approach to my unique (nerd) interests and strengths during early childhood, it is less likely that I would have developed the confidence and skills to become a writer and journalist. I am grateful to them for ensuring that my individual needs were met, while also creating boundaries and limitations that made me feel special but not spoiled.
My story is not uncommon.
Many of us were raised by parents who purposely encouraged our wild imaginations, strengthened our spirits of independence and willingly sacrificed to make our adult achievements possible.
According to The Urban Child Institute, parenting with purpose – also described as positive parenting – is essential for children to become successful on any career.
Starting at birth, it is critical for parents to recognize their children's unique gifts and to take steps necessary to help them become their best selves.
To promote ideal mental, social and emotional outcomes for children, parents must devote a significant amount of time, love and attention – particularly during the first three years of life. Touching, talking, reading and playing are proven ways to encourage healthy brain development.
Creating and maintaining a safe and nurturing home environment that caters to the basic and unique needs your child has also fosters the development of foundational tools such as language and literacy, self-control, an independent-thinking ability and problem-solving skills. All of these are needed to achieve academic and career success, and to confront and overcome adversity.
The Urban Child Institute's Conditions Affecting Neurocognitive Development and Learning in Early Childhood (CANDLE) study provides further evidence of the impact that family and home environment has on brain development in young children.
The ongoing study follows a representative sampling of Shelby County mothers and children who range in age from the prenatal period to three years old. It evaluates the greatest risk factors that hinder optimal brain development, including poverty, maternal depression and low maternal education.
Recent findings reveal that mothers with high stress levels caused by these circumstances were on average less affectionate, less patient and less responsive to their child's needs. As a result, their babies are more susceptible to developing behavioral and emotional problems, in addition to learning challenges that can persist throughout childhood and adulthood.
Amid turmoil, misfortune or difficult times in the family or home environment, parenting styles and techniques can make all the difference in determining how well or poorly a child will perform in school and adjust in society.
According to The Urban Child Institute, parents who focus on creating positive experiences for their children lower the stress and anxiety levels they and their children experience. Giving and receiving unconditional love and support can often mitigate the effects of economic disparities and family challenges.
No one can dispute the fact that children raised in middle- and high-income households will enjoy added benefits to aid in their overall development. However, even when financial resources are limited, positive parenting is still possible by ensuring that the emotional, physical and mental well-being of your child remains a top priority.
What my parents lacked financially was accounted for in the overwhelming amount of time, energy and effort they exerted to ensure that my siblings and I could discover our talents and make our dreams a reality.
We will forever be indebted to them for choosing to make our future success their primary purpose for living.
(The New Tri-State Defender has partnered with The Urban Child Institute to make sure every child has the best chance for optimal brain development during the critical first three years of each child's life. This is one in a series of stories and columns in our campaign.)