Nature vs. Nurture

This is the first blog in a series titled, “The Core Concepts of Development.”


Both nature (genetic influences) and nurture (influences of environment, experience, and education) affect children’s development.

When my first child, David, was born, I was determined to be the perfect parent.  David was a very calm and obedient child.  As I would sit in church each Sunday, I would congratulate myself on what a great job my spouse and I were doing as parents.  Our second child, Mark would sit still, fold his arms, and quietly look at books, at 15 months old.  He was the model of reverence, and I silently judged my neighbors while patting myself on the back.  And then Scott, our third child, was born.  He could not have been more different than his brothers.  He was a bundle of energy, constantly on the go, making me chase him everywhere.  In church, he was climbing the pews, throwing the books, talking, laughing, screaming, and trying to run up and down the aisles.  I had to offer silent apologies to all those parents that I had previously looked down on. As I observed my boys, I wondered what I had done differently as a parent to have children who acted so differently.  The answer was that I had done nothing differently.  They came to me with those personalities.  This was their inherent nature.

As any parent of two or more children knows, those little bundles of joy each come with a unique personality.

Each one has talents and attributes all their own.  The three most commonly studied types are the “easy” child, the “slow-to-warm-up” child, and the “difficult” child.   As you can guess by the names, some children seem to be a breeze to raise, seldom giving their parents problems, easily socializing or trying new experiences.  Some are more timid, shy with strangers, quieter, and even afraid to attempt anything new.  They have to be coaxed a little, having a safe anchor nearby.  And then there are the difficult ones, colicky and fussy, crying easily, stubborn, angry, and constantly refusing to do as they are instructed.  So where does nurture fit in?

 Our parenting styles need to adapt to each child.

 We need to be aware of the environment and how it affects a child, as well as the way we introduce them to new experiences. This is often referred to as “goodness of fit.”  Understanding the concept of goodness of fit can help us decide whether some changes may be needed so there is a better match between the child and his environment.  For instance, my second child really needed to be in bed by 8 pm.  He even asked me if he could go to bed.  He was tired then, and would be cranky and impossible to bear without the needed sleep. He would wake up at about 5 or 6 am, ready and rarin’ to go.  However, my youngest daughter was a night owl.  She would not wind down until midnight and sleep until 10 or 11 the next morning.  Putting her to bed early was useless because she would just scream and cry about having to go to bed when she was wide awake.  Making adjustments to try and fit their sleep schedules was a challenge, but through a little compromising and adding or taking away naps, we were able to make it work.  

By offering challenges to active children, gently coaxing shy children, and having multiple distractions ready for difficult children, we can help each child adapt and learn to fit into society.   

Wittmer, D.S. & Petersen S.H. (2010) Core concepts of prenatal, infant, and toddler development. Retrieved from: concepts-prenatal-infant-toddler/

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