Early Childhood Intervention: Module One – Typical and Atypical Development

Internal or External: The nature/nurture debate

For a long time, researchers and professionals have debated what affects the development of a child more: the child’s biological characteristics or the environment in which they live. This is known as “the nature/nurture debate.”

Although we may not be able to alter what biology (nature) has given us (as we all come into the world with inherited characteristics), we can alter the environment (nurture) in which we live. The environment plays a significant role in infant mental health and on the social and emotional development of children.

Example: The way a baby is cared for, and how well they are able to bond with their primary caregiver, will have an impact on their development and on the kind of person every infant and child will become1

Beyond “nature” or biology, and “nurture” or environment, what we really need to pay attention to in early child development is the relationship between the infant and their primary caregiver. This refers to how well the caregiver can read the infant’s cues, like smiling or crying, and how they respond to them.

Example: A caregiver who tries to play with a tired baby and reads the baby’s mood cues will postpone the play session to a time when the infant in interested in play. The caregiver’s response will greatly influence how comfortable and safe this infant will be in his or her presence.
When infants and young children feel safe and secure, they are more likely to explore and learn from their environment. These babies have learned to trust. This is what researchers have described as babies with secure attachment2 with their caregivers. Secure attachment is more likely to develop when the caregiver can place the infant’s needs ahead of their own.

Example: When an infant cries in the middle of the night, a responsive parent will try to comfort the infant. As hard as this is, especially for a tired parent, responding to the baby’s cry will ensure that the baby learns their caregiver is there for him or her.

1. See Dr Allan Scoufe’s publications at: http://www.cehd.umn.edu/ICD/research/Parent-Child/default.html
2. see References

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