What is the biggest problem that interferes with child development?
I must say, as a pediatrician who focuses a considerable amount of my professional efforts on promoting healthy child development, that this is a very interesting and important question that I'm not often asked.
That said, what comes to mind in considering my answer is to think first about what I consider to be the most important things that help foster healthy child development. While there many, I would suggest that simple but incredibly important parent-child interactions such as reading with, talking to, holding, rocking, and singing to children all are crucial ingredients when it comes to promoting healthy development, as are good nutrition, plenty of physical activity, and play.
As someone who is also focused on early child and brain development in the childcare setting, I also strongly believe that it's important to consider not just what we can do as parents to promote our children's healthy development, but also to take into account any and all of our children's caregivers. With many children spending a significant (if not majority) of their waking hours in childcare, it's just as important to make sure that childcare providers and other caregivers are creating an equally positive environment in which to foster healthy development.
So now to your question of what are the biggest problems I see interfering with child development? To be quite specific, I think that not reading to children puts them behind where they might otherwise be from a learning standpoint. I also believe that spending more time interacting with inanimate electronic objects (i.e. TV, computer, and phone screens) than having positive social interactions with other living beings (i.e. other children, parents, and caregivers) puts children at a disadvantage when it comes to healthy development. Physically speaking, I worry that we are raising our children to be inactive, starting with our exaggerated tendency to strap children in—in booster seats, high chairs, swings, bouncy seats, and strollers to name but a few—rather than let them be mobile, active and explore, walk or run. And finally, on a broader scale, anything that gives children a sense of insecurity and/or causes toxic stress (such as hunger, homelessness, abuse, for example) has been shown to have a powerfully negative effect on their ability to learn and to develop to their full potential.
I will also add that one of the biggest problems that interfere with healthy child development is also simply not recognizing potential developmental problems sooner. We now know that the earlier we identify potential problems with a child's development, the more likely we are to help that child. To that end, I've had the honor of working with the CDC's Learn the Signs. Act Early. campaign to help make parents and caregivers more aware of what "normal" social, emotional, and cognitive milestones are, and to encourage all parents to address any potential concerns they might have with their children's healthcare provider sooner rather than later. For those of you who are interested, the CDC has free copies available (in print or for download) of the 32-page color children's book I co-authored, called Amazing Me, that illustrates the developmental milestones of 3-year-olds.