Parents, educators, psychologists, and medicine have been debating whether nature or nurture has the greatest impact on a child’s development seemingly forever. The debate examines whether human behaviour is largely decided by a person’s biology and genetic makeup or their environment and experiences. One side believes that we are destined to follow a certain path due to our genetic makeup and the other believes that we are born as a blank slate that can be shaped throughout our life.
Nature and nurture are far from separate. It is impossible to disentangle the individual effects of genetics or environment on human behaviour when they both contribute, and directly affect each other. We should instead, understand that we merely inherit the likelihood of turning out a certain way. The environment we grow up in, and the events and people we are exposed to then shape the foundation of our personality into who we are.
Unlike nature, where our understanding of human genetics is relatively at an early stage and developing rapidly, there has been extensive research throughout the previous one hundred years into the effects of nature on the development of children. Studies such as the ones carried out by Rene Spitz in 1940’s and Rutter’s Romanian Orphan study in 2007, have shown the importance of love, care and interaction on the development of a young child. Spitz studied children brought up in sterile orphanages without this love and care and found that those who managed to survive the hospital setting were scrawny, were more likely to contract illness, and showed clear cognitive and behavioural problems. Rutter's 2007 research compared orphanage and foster provision in Romania and concluded that the children left in orphanages had twice the rate of conditions like anxiety and depression compared to those who went into foster care. The foster kids, also, grew faster and were both smarter and happier!
Even in the field of genetics there is gradually more understanding of how experiences can affect babies and young children's genes.
“Children inherit approximately 23,000 genes from their parents, but not every gene does what it was designed to do. Experiences leave a chemical “signature” on genes that determines whether and how the genes are expressed. Collectively, those signatures are called the epigenome.
The brain is particularly responsive to experiences and environments during early development. External experiences spark signals between neurons, which respond by producing proteins… Positive experiences, such as exposure to rich learning opportunities, and negative influences, such as malnutrition or environmental toxins, can change the chemistry that encodes genes in brain cells — a change that can be temporary or permanent. This process is called epigenetic modification” https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/deep-dives/gene-environment-interaction/
At Baby College we recognise that each child is an individual, and that you can have a significant impact on your child’s development. So how can you help nurture their development? Simple :) Be there and care, give them cuddles, smiles and love! From there you can advance to talking to them, singing to them, playing with them, reading to them, teaching them about their world, asking them about their feelings, listening to them, giving them hugs and kisses, setting them boundaries, giving them freedom, recognising their individual personality traits, discovering what makes them tick, giving them more hugs and kisses… and remember you don’t have to be the perfect parent you just have to care.