Beyond resilience to thriving: Optimizing child wellbeing
Keywords:wellbeing, early childhood, Evolved Developmental Niche, parenting, evolution, child development
Research in child wellbeing often assesses the effects of particular disadvantages or focuses on children’s resilience in adverse circumstances. In contrast, considering developmental optimization in early childhood, and what is necessary to foster it, informs the study of child wellbeing in the socioemotional domain. In the program of research reviewed here, we consider the kinds of early experiences that promote wellbeing, defined as optimal physiological and emotional regulation that enables a flexible sociomoral orientation to others. This work suggests that practices consistent with the evolved developmental niche (EDN), or the developmental system that likely characterized human caregiving over the course of evolution, facilitate development of the physiological and psychological systems of regulation that enable optimal wellbeing in the domain of sociomoral functioning. Aspects of EDN-consistent care provide a cohesive environmental context for development, but different facets of such care correspond to different outcomes related to socioemotional development. Overall, parental positive attitudes toward and provision of EDN-consistent care are associated with an orientation toward others that is prosocial, flexible, and engaged. These findings have emerged in samples in the US, Europe, and China, and suggest that the EDN might provide a useful framework for conceptualizing developmental optimization, for consideration of the important facets of early childhood care and education, and for fostering child wellbeing.
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