INTRODUCTION
The world summit for children (1990) brought the cause of the world’s children, perhaps for the first time in the history of human kind, at the top of the world’s agenda. It was a sign that heads of governments, politicians and policy makers could come together to determine how to make the world a better place for children who are the future. Children’s survival, development, education and protection were legally binding to all concerned in the business of childcare and development.
UNICEF has been in the vanguard for the rights and welfare of the world’s children. Apart from spear heading the Convention on the rights of the child, UNICEF was one of the six leading organizations who came together to announce their commitment to building a Global Movement for Children.  It is a Movement, which aims at including all who believe that the rights of children must be our first priority; “from caring parents to government, ministers, from responsible corporations to teacher and child protection officers (UNICEF, 2002). This movement has been mobilizing support all over the world for a 10-point agenda that aims at “changing the world with children”. Its Rallying Call according to UNICEF (2002:43) proclaims  “We, as citizens of every nation and members of families, communities and civil society organization of every kind, hereby resolve to help mobilize as Global Movement for  Children an unstoppable crusade to end, at  long last, the poverty, ill-health, violence and discrimination that needlessly  blighted and destroyed so many young lives”.
In furthering the best interests of children, this Movement believes that the most effective actions must come from our own lives and hearts. “ As members of the human family, each of us is responsible. All of us are accountable” (UNICEF, 2002). Who then can be more responsible and accountable for the well-being, development and health of the child than parents? Parents are obviously closest to their children and thus should be in the best position to nurture them into useful citizens.
This paper thus takes a look at the characteristics of early childhood development, physical, cognitive and psychosocial development of the child as well as Parental role in early childhood care and health. The paper concludes with recommendations for better parenting for improved early childcare and development.

CHARACTERISTICS OF EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
Early childhood years are full of complexities as the nature of children differ from stage to stage of their development. The early years from 2 years to 6 years are crucial in their development. During this period, they are in the process of undergoing great changes and taking important developmental strides. They are getting to be independent, from poor coordination to better motor skills control. They progress from non-verbal communication to verbal one with people. They enjoy adventure, play, testing out ideas and problem solving. They also learn to build relationships with their peers as well as increase their trust in adults.
There is an increase in their knowledge span. They are super active, restless and full of incredible energy. They are very inquisitive and they love to experiment. However, there are some of them that are shy by nature, with an uncomfortable sense of their own littleness and inadequacies.
They prefer to remain quiet and observe everyone and everything. Children by their special nature, need understanding adults to accommodate their peculiarities and sometimes exuberant overbearing nature.
PHYSICAL, COGNITIVE AND PSYCHO-SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT IN EARLY YEARS
It is important to give young children the quality care, nutrition and stimulation they need for healthy growth and development.    One of the main features of early childhood is the rapid development of the brain. According to Hodges (ed); (2001:135) “the last three months of prenatal life and the first two years after birth have been termed the most critical period to brain growth spurt.” This is because, during this period, more than half of the adult brain weight is added. It grows tremendously in the first few years of life, increasing to about 2/3 of adult weight by the end of the first year and to about 75% by the age of two years and 90 percent by the age of five. Thus, a five year old’s brain has developed almost to the level of an adult’s.
However, because of the rapid growth of the brain, the child needs adequate nutrition at this period. This is because, poor nutrition before and after birth and in the first few years of life can seriously hamper brain development. This can lead to neurological and behavioural disorders, which may manifest in learning disabilities.
There is also scientific evidence on the importance of adequate stimulation during early childhood period, necessary for the child’s cognitive development. There are definite periods in childhood development when the environment can influence how the brain is stimulated for certain functions like language, music, physical activity and even mathematics. It therefore means that the brain must receive the appropriate stimuli at the crucial time to perform these functions; else it may be impossible for it to “function” later in life. Early childhood period therefore is a period that should be handled with utmost care.
Just like the cognitive changes in a growing baby are dramatic, so also the physical change. These physical changes in the early months and years are varied and highly visible.
A new born baby is a wonder to behold. He makes adaptations that are biological. Various reflexes e.g. the ability to breathe, suck, taste, etc spur the new born transition from the comfort of the womb, that is, from a “water baby” to an “air borne” baby, enhancing its survival. Other senses (hearing, touch, sight) enhance adaptation to a new environment of people, things, temperatures etc. Reflexes and senses set the stage for learning to be a member of the human family and to cope with situations which may arise. At the same time, the dependency of the new born according to Caplan and Caplan (1995:22) “invokes the attention of parents and other caregivers which in turn, lays the foundation for building living and long lasting relationships with people.”
Thus, the variety of factors that shape personality intellectual and social competencies is great. Though a neonate is equipped to handle himself physically by means of reflexes, his behaviour, perception and intellect depend on his brain development, which is also determined by his nutrition. The brain determines who we are, rules our behaviour, our adaptation to  our environment, our feelings and recall of experiences, the way we play and think. The brain is infact the human computer, which has a controlling function as well.
A baby is continually forming and expanding his concept of himself. So how he experiences his world will affect the way he thinks about himself and others. He needs a safe world in order to develop a sense of adequacy. One way he can do this is to relate to certain people referred to as “significant others.”  These people include those people the baby sees often, especially parents.
PARENTAL ROLE IN EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT AND HEALTH
The primary location for early childhood development is the home. Traditionally, the responsibility for child care in Nigeria as elsewhere in Africa rests on the extended family and the wider community. These members of the society contribute to the upbringing of the child, providing him or her with a wide range of stimulating interactions that will affect the child’s development positively, especially in psycho-social terms.
But in recent decades, rapid urbanization has increasingly eroded this traditional pattern of the child care. Hodges (2001:137) observed that “for the approximately one third of families who now live in the cities, the mutual support that was a prominent feature of rural life has given way to a situation where each household is to a large extent responsible for its own for the care of children” Living in cities implies that many mothers are engaged outside the home or otherwise for most part of the day and this has implication for child upbringing in the family.
Parental roles in early childhood development are varied. The quality of care given to young children affects their development. Parents and in particular mothers, are responsible for feeding, hygiene in the homes as well as the response to illness in young children. For babies, mothers breast milk offer the best and most complete food.