Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

The importance of caregiver-child interactions for the survival and healthy development of young children

A review

World Health Organization

Publication details

Number of pages: 102
Publication date: 2004
Languages: English
ISBN: 924159134X



This review brings together current theory as well as empirical evidence from an array of disciplines including neurophysiology, psycholinguistics, behavioural embryology and developmental psychology on the importance of caregiver-child relationships for the survival and healthy development of children.

Regardless of where in the world they live and the differences in the care practices, all babies depend on warm, responsive, linguistically rich, and protective relationships in which they can grow and develop. The care of small children is critical to their survival, growth and psychological development.

The determinants and processes by which care exerts effects on children have become clearer since the 1970s. Most important are the day-to-day interactions between primary caregivers and small children in affecting the child’s brain and neurological development, psychological capacities and social adjustment. They also affects their survival and growth by influencing the capacity of infants and small children to cope with biologically challenging conditions such as low birth weight.

Children whose care is disturbed or distorted in some way, are at risk of not receiving sufficient nutrition, being subjected to stress, not growing well, not being psychologically stimulated and of developing malnutrition. Warm and responsive caregiving is now known to extend some protection to children in otherwise adverse situations.