Five-year-old Jason marched to the front of the stage and recited a poem he learned for Parent’s Day. Afterwards, he looked at his proud parents, winked and gave a “thumbs up” to they roar of the audience. Off stage, Alice waited her turn. Before she walked to the platform, tears streamed down her cheeks. Her mom exclaimed, “I don’t understand what happened! We’ve been over this short rhyme dozens of times and she knew it perfectly.”
What’s the difference? Both children come from similar backgrounds-- including education and socio-economic. And both youngsters have other siblings in the home.
However other factors, seen and unseen, affect behavior.
Nature vs. Nurture Theory
Researchers have debated for years whether nature (inherited characteristics) or nurture (environmental factors) had the greatest impact on the individual. And some believe that genetic tendencies may exist, yet support the theory that ultimate it doesn’t matter that our behavioral aspects originate only from the environment factors of our childhood. Through the years studies on infant and children’s behavior have revealed the most crucial evidence for nurture theories.
Historically, even Aristotle and Socrates addressed this topic. Years later, J.B. Watson’s (Watson and Rayner, 1920) in his study of the orphan boy, Albert, stated:
Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed and my own specific world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors.
In the 1950s, B.F. Skinner, a Harvard psychologist, produced pigeons capable of dancing, performing a figure eight and playing tennis. Known as the father of behavioral science, he eventually proved that human behavior could be conditioned in much the same way as animal studies.
An article published in New Scientist(Powell, 2003) suggests that a sense of humor is a learned trait, influenced by a child’s family and cultural environment and not genetically determined.
Twin studies have been closely studied to investigate the nature/nurture questions. It is assumed that since identical twins have identical genotypes, differences in their intelligence may be contributed to environmental influences. Genotype refers to the genetic structure inherited at conception. Phenotype refers to observable characteristics in the offspring at any point during its development.
Most twin studies involve the administering of tests of intelligence (usually standardized IQ tests) to identical twins who have been reared together and identical twins reared apart. The classic twin studies including those by Newman (1937) and Shields (1962) have indicated that identical twins score similarly whether they are reared together or apart. In fact, the similarity is greater for identical twins reared apart than for fraternal twins reared together. Fraternal twins are not more alike than non-twin siblings, but if raised together, they have shared a similar environment. These results have been interpreted as supporting the theory that intelligence is primarily influenced by heredity.
Regardless of the nature or nurture theory parents support, all children need homes that help the child developing into caring, competent and confident individuals. While you cannot change inherited characteristics, you can made a profound modification in the environment. Parents are a child’s first teacher. You can make a difference!
Raising Caring Children
Five-year-old Jessica couldn’t wait until she started kindergarten. Prior to opening day, Jessica and her mother went shopping for new school clothes and a special lunchbox of her favorite cartoon character. On the first day, she put on her new clothes and with her mother’s help, packed her favorite sandwich and drink in her new box. However, when she returned that afternoon, she didn’t have the container. “Jessica, did you forget to bring your lunchbox home? Did you leave it on the bus?”
“No,” she answered. “There was another little girl in my class who didn’t have a lunchbox. So, I gave her mine.”
“I was so proud of my daughter,” said the mother. I never thought about this happening—but I’m glad.”
Character traits, such as caring, are usually learned at home. Parents who role model these attributes show children how to understand the needs of others.
Parent Checklist: How do you respond to the following questions on caring?
- Am I a good role model on caring for people who have individual needs?
- Do I volunteer and work in the community for charitable causes?
- Do I allow my child to own a pet and share in the responsibility for providing food and care?
- Do I encourage my child’s friends to play at our home?
- Do I refrain from telling jokes or repeating stories which ridicule other cultures or ethnic groups?
Activity Focusing on Caring
“I Did Something Nice” Basket”
Help your child become a more caring person by recognizing his/her acts or deeds. With your child’s help, write statements of ways they can help others. Drop the fold pieces of paper in small basket. Draw one choice daily. As the “something nice” deed is completed, attach the card to a cork bulletin board in his/her room. Encourage family members to make positive comments on the number of cards. For starters, include the following:
1. Offer to bring in a newspaper for a person with a physical handicap.
2. Feed my pet without being reminded.
3. Complete my chores as part of being a family member.
- Become a friend with a child who has special needs.
- Keep my room neat and toys in their proper place.
Raising Competent Children
Six-year-old Antonio watched his favorite baseball team win another game. “One day I’ll be just as good as that hitter,” said Antonio to his dad. “I’ll hit a home run every game and never let a runner get pass first base—which I’ll be playing when I grow up.”
Later that afternoon, Antonio’s team played a Little League game. As Antonio’s came up to bat, his father yelled, “Come on, Antonio, knock it over the fence. You can do it!”
“Strike one, strike two, strike three—you’re out,” called the umpire. The look on his son’s face showed the despair he felt.
Immediately after the game, his dad said, “You played a good game, son. I bet next time you’ll get a hit and score a run. Why don’t we start practicing after I come in from work each day?”
Parents who compliment or praise a child, for even small accomplishments, help children develop a sense of competency. When we believe in our children – they start believing in themselves.
Parent Checklist: How do you respond to the following questions on competency?
- Did I find ways today to offer sincere praise?
- Do I realize that some things come easy for my child—and others more difficult?
- Do I allow my child to make minor mistakes, realizing that this makes for critical thinking later?
- Do I look for the positive attributes in my child, or the negative?
Activity Focusing on Competency
Children enjoy being part of any celebrations. During the months of November celebrate Thanksgiving. December brings Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
During the holidays, plan a family meal where everyone is involved in the preparation. Even young children enjoy grocery shopping, setting the table, making place cards, stirring cake batter or peeling carrots. Look for occasions to offer sincere praise as you work together as a family. Small tasks lead to larger ones—part of raising a competent child.
Raising Confident Children
When five-year-old Justin asked to walk a couple of block to visit a friend, his mother said, “No. You’re not old enough.”
But Justin replied, “But you let Todd, my brother, visit his friends.”
“Yes, but Todd is 10-years-old,” responded Mother.
In a couple of days, mother called Justin in from playing. “I have a chore for you today. You have proved that you are responsible and I know I can depend on you. Can you take these cupcakes next door to our neighbor? I know this will make her happy.”
Teaching responsibility is one way of raising confident children. Let the child know you feel they can be trusted. Talk about how they are growing and becoming a dependable person. Developing a sense of confidence is a building block to maturity.
Parent Checklist: How do you respond to the following questions on confidence?
- Do I present challenging opportunities for my child?
- Are these activities appropriate to both the developmental and chronological age?
- How do I respond when my child doesn’t measure up to my expectations?
- Do I offer unconditional love to my child at all times?
Activity Focusing on Confidence
Provide a 15-inch square of white fabric and markers. Ask your child to draw a stick picture on the cloth of something he/she enjoys doing and one where they excel. Perhaps it’s taking care of a pet, playing ball, or listening to a book read. When complete, hang the “blanket” in their room. Suggest they look at the blanket whenever facing a new activity or feeling a lack of confidence.
Between Socrates and today’s early childhood programs, over two thousand years of ideas and experience contribute to the education of young children. Parents and caretakers of our youngest citizens recognize the benefit of consolidating professional strengths and for promoting our country’s early childhood programs, including those for the handicapped.In short, whether people will survive and thrive on this planet depends upon the development of the potential of all children—children who will be responsible for building a congenial world community. Homes and child care centers where children are nurtured in becoming caring, competent and confident individuals will change the future of our world.
Carolyn R. Tomlin has been a kindergarten teacher, director of a preschool program and taught Early Childhood Education at Union University, Jackson, TN. She contributes to numerous education publications.
Gander, Mary J. and Gardiner, Harry W. Child and Adolescent Development. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1981.
Hildebrand, Verna. Introduction to Early Childhood Education, 4thed.N.Y.:Macmillan, 1986.
Knight, M., T. Graham, R. Juliano, S. Miksza, P. Tonnies. Teaching Children to Love Themselves: A Handbook for Parents and Teachers ofYoung Children. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1982.
Newman, H.H., Freeman, F.N., and Holzinger, K.J. Twins: A Study of Heredity and Environment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1937.
Powell, Kimberly. “Nature vs. Nurture” Genealogy, Oct. 9, 2003.Shields, J. Monozygotic Twins. London: Oxford University Press, 1962.
Viegas, Jennifer. “Nurture, Not Nature: Study says Environment, Not Genetics Defines Sense of Humor” Special to ABCNEWS.com 2000.
Watson, J.B., and Rayner, R. “Conditioned Emotional Responses,” Journal of Experimental Psychology 3 (1920).