-Lady Bird Johnson, former US first lady
One always wonders about the impact of Nature versus Nurture. One is about the soil. One is about the watering and the fertilisation. Obviously, growth depends on both. Development depends on both. It is about the entire environment that the child starts out with – internal and external. It is about the environment that the child is immersed in – through early childhood and into the formative teenage years.
The first and foremost factor perhaps, in the course of the child’s growth, would be establishing a close connection through communication. The foetus starts to listen and feel for his maternal heartbeat from in-utero and this seeking to connect will continue through birth into infancy. From a non-verbal state, communication works through body language and posture, facial expressions, voice pitch and tone and a host of other unspoken expressions.
In infancy, one focuses on self-identity and awareness. This is the time to develop the understanding of feelings and emotions, often through Play, which is their main occupation. There is a need for consistency and firm handling, including gentle discipline. Some ideas for infant stimulation include singing, talking, object visualisation, movement and infant massage. Toys in later infancy include rattles, mobiles and musical toys, which encourage eye-hand coordination and sensory stimulation. Infants should be encouraged to explore and move around, to dance and to be engaged face to face. Peak a boo games stimulate memory development. Gestures and action songs teach symbolic communication. Puppet play and pretend toys teach creativity and imagination. This paves the way into toddlerhood.
The interaction of self and the environment is of constant interest in toddlerhood. Give your toddler space and chances to explore, to make choices and decisions and to learn and overcome challenges. Provide some creativity, increase gross motor exploration, build coordination and confidence, expose to reading and stories and start interactive games with peers.
In preschool years, the focus is very much on the development of self-control and character building. Friendship formation is also a big thing at this point. Help the child to stabilise his emotions. Set expectations for achievable goals and responsibility for completion of goals. Focus on imagination, interaction and turn taking. Develop attention and the sense of a timeline. Help the child to be discerning in the selection of friends even whilst teaching equality and sharing. Be an authoritative figure. Rules must be clear and consistent. Stress social language and communication and hone language skills, both in spoken and written format. Cultivate good reading habits. You must teach a child to fish: do not simply provide the fish. Learning is often accidental, repetitive, sequential and interlinked, as it is tied to neurological maturity.
Always encourage your child. Harness their strengths and strengthen their weaknesses. Let them know they are loved and that they are good in their own ways. Be firm as well. Be consistent. Above all, be their friend.