Use Your Head:

A Parental Guide to Understanding Early Childhood Brain Development

         By: Cameron Beckner                            

Introduction 

The Most Critical time for a child's brain development is during the first three years of their life, as these are the times where brain development is the most rapid. This is the case because children,at this time in their lives, are learning the basis of behavioral norms in society, as well as developing their own personalities from their learning and nurturing experiences from their parents, and family. This guide is aimed at aiding parents in recognizing healthy ways in helping their child grow into their personality. Then they can fully support their child's physical and emotional growth, as well as contribute to making a comfortable growing experience for the child. In order to do that though, certain factors that affect a child's epigenome, or what makes them unique need to be examined to enhance the parent's understanding of the process of growth. By the end of this guide, parents should be able to identify certain factors and practices that affect a child's overall uniqueness, and with that knowledge can then go to work to giving their child a healthy and positive experience of developing into their own person.

 

This guide will discuss:

  • Nature vs. Nurture debate
  • Environmental factors that affect a child's epigenome.
  • Genetic Factors that affect a child's epigenome.
  • Healthy practices to aid the child in development.
  • Critical settings when the epigenome is affected.

 

 

Nature vs. Nurture

Before discussing the factors that can affect a child's epigenome, it is important to recognize the difference between the interactions of nature and nurture upon a child. Basically this debate contemplates which of these two has a bigger impact upon an individual's behavioral patterns/personality, general makeup, and emotional and physical health. Nature refers more to the genetic traits that are passed down from parent to child, whereas nurture refers to the traits developed over time by the individual. 

For example:

Nature Advocates would argue:

  • Homosexuality is not a choice. It is passed down.
  • Obesity is largely due to genetics passed down from the parent to the child.
  • If a child follows in a parents footsteps, it can be argued they are naturally inclined to go in that direction

Nurture Advocates Would argue:

  • Homosexuality is not passed down so therefore it is not a choice.
  • Obesity is the result of poor eating habits as well as poor personal choices.
  • If a child follows in a parents footsteps, it can be argued they followed based on the nurturing way they were raised at home.

So basically, nurture would focus on the environmental factors that affect a child's epigenome, and nature would focus on the genetic factors. This whole debate asks which plays a bigger role, but the truth is, is that the development of almost all traits in an individual is due to a combination of both nature and nurture interactions.

 

 

How the environment affects an epigenome

The environment is going to play a huge role in aiding, or hindering the development of a child's epigenome, but also their temperament, or the patterns of arousal and emotionality that represent consistent and enduring characteristics in an individual. Keep in mind that this will only affect some of the traits developed, as others are more affected by genetics than the environment. In this context the environment refers to the exposure of a child to the outside world, and the traits they develop on their own from that exposure. More so, it refers to how the child interacts with the environment, and how to a bigger extent, how the environment interacts with them. So how do we know which factors are environmental? Well, the previous slide stated that environmental factors are more associated with nurturing, so environmental factors are going to refer to the traits that children develop over time. Basically the traits that aren't crucially affected by genetics.   

Examples:

  • A childs outgoing nature could be a product of the exposure of their environment, as some parents would encourage their child to have high levels of socializing. Works the other way around too, as those who aren't encouraged to socialize a'lot are more likely to not be very outgoing.
  • Physical ability can be a product of environmental exposure as children who have higher levels of physical activity are more likely to be more physically and emotionally healthy, whihc can then affect their overall behavior and personality.
  • Education is a huge example. Children who receive an education are further exposed to their environment, and socialize even more.