So What Is the Truth about This Debate

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The truth, as in most things in life, lands pretty close to the middle. Trying to define a child's behaviors strictly by her genetics or her environment is like trying to define a cube strictly by its height or width.

Six factors have an impact on a child's behaviors. Three of these factors are from the "nature" side (temperament, inherited vulnerability, and certain medical conditions) and three are from the "nurture" side (the quality of the parent-child attachment from birth, the presence, quality and timing of serious life stressors or attachment disruptions, and the type and quality of the home and parenting environment). How a child behaves, or his intelligence, or his amount of emotional self-control is based upon a complex interaction of many genetic variations coupled with many factors specific to his environment.

Both "nature" and "nurture" interact to form a child's personality and inner sense of who she is. Additionally, the developmental age of a child contributes to the relative importance of the nature versus nurture influences. For example, in the first three years, a child's personality is strongly molded by the interaction between her parents (or her primary caregiver) and her temperament. As she grows older, her biological temperament becomes less important. Instead, her environment (the impact of the people around her, the places she goes, the things she sees and learns, the stresses she experiences) interacts with her genetic vulnerabilities to play the largest part in determining her personality. Researchers are discovering that even when we have a genetic weakness (making us prone to a certain disease or characteristic), we still have a certain amount of influence on whether or not, and how strong this will appear. Our brains are also very plastic—biology can shape behavior and behavior can shape biology. Our brain's genetic structure as well as the environment our brain is exposed to throughout our life influence our personality. Research has demonstrated that huge stressors or depression can actually change the structure and function of our brains.

There are conditions that have a strong inherited basis and can play a strong role in a child's excessive behaviors (e.g., ADHD, certain types of depression and other mood disorders, Tourette's syndrome, autism, and a particular gene that increases the likelihood of serious antisocial behaviors). If a child is showing behavioral problems, it could be because of his genetic and inherited vulnerability. However, researchers admit that while infants may be born with certain genetic tendencies, the environment into which the child is born is still critical as to whether or not the child eventually develops the full-blown syndrome. Even if your child is genetically prone to a specific behavioral condition, it doesn't mean that he is doomed.

If your child has high-risk nature or nurture risk factors, there is no doubt that these will likely play a role in how she acts, but proper parenting can make the difference between health and illness. Regardless of how messed up your child's biology, heredity, genetics, health or home life is or has been, you still play a huge role on how your child turns out. Changing your parenting by following the Three Parenting Principles will change your life and the life of your tot or preschooler.

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