It’s that age-old debate. Nature versus nurture. Are we genetically programmed the way that we are, or is it determined by our experiences and environment in the early years of our life?
The answer here is both.
Our DNA, plays a role in who we are. However, the things that we experience in our lives also have a huge impact on who we become. This is why the early years of a child’s life are so important.
In this article, I am going to talk about the affect that our environment and experiences have on us. Not only will I explain how they affect our physical development, but also our emotional development and ultimately our future.
We all want to live the life of our dreams & fulfill our true potential
Even more so, we want this for our children and most of us work hard to make sure that they do. As parents, we all have different beliefs and do things in different ways. However, we all want the best for our children and this is at the root of the decisions we make.
There are so many different parenting styles that seem to unfortunately divide people and create great debate. As a parent myself, I will never understand the ‘Mummy Wars’. Breastfeeding versus Bottle-feeding. Pram-pushing versus babywearing. The list goes on.
Yes we all do things differently and yes we might not agree with each other. However, the one thing that unites us all is that we love our children and want them to live the best life that they can.
The early years are crucial and have a huge impact on our future
I started learning about Early Years Language Development as part of my degree. Subsequently, I have since continued to learn about how the first 5 years of life actually affect us.
These early years are crucial for the brain’s development and the first 3 are particularly critical. This is when the main architecture of our brain is formed.
Throughout this time our inner ‘wiring’ is created. This lays the foundation for our future and affects how we function later in life.
Children are born ready to learn and are like little sponges that soak up everything around them. However, the things that they absorb can become a part of who they are.
Our inner values and belief systems are created by our experiences
Everything that a child consistently experiences throughout their early years moulds their view of the world. It also shapes how they see themselves within it.
If a child is consistently treated with respect, there’s a good chance that their inner belief will be that they have value. If a child is consistently put down, their inner belief could be that they are worthless. Over time, these beliefs get stored in our subconscious mind and guide the path of our life without us even realising it.
Think about it this way. When you first start learning to drive you have to do every single step of the process slowly and consciously. You think every stage through and it feels unnatural. However, over time you just do it automatically don’t you? This is because through repetition and practice the process gets stored in your subconscious mind, which automatically guides you.
Experiences in childhood work in the same way. If a child is repeatedly spoken down to, this becomes their ‘normal’. It then creates a belief within them that is then locked away. Later in life this can manifest itself in lots of different ways.
Our beliefs guide our actions
A child that was regularly spoken down to could mimic this behaviour and speak down to others. Or, they might allow people to speak down to them and be treated like they are inferior because they have learned through the people around them that this is the reality of their life.
As adults, we all do all sorts of things and make decisions without even knowing that we are subconsciously guided by the lessons we learned when we were younger.
If a child is criticised a lot this could result in their subconscious mind creating an inner belief that they are not good enough. As an adult they might never quite fulfill their true potential. This is because without even knowing it, they are guided by that subconscious inner voice that makes them feel not good enough.
Not every child will create the same belief from the same circumstances.
If 2 children are bullied, one might grow up with a belief that they are worthless, yet the other might create an inner belief that they have to fight their way through life. Both beliefs will have a profound, yet very different impact on the way that they respond to life as an adult.
Experiences in our early years, whether they are good or bad, affect us all differently. However, the important thing is to be mindful that our actions do affect children deeply. The type of words we consistently say to them will become the inner voice that guides them in the future.
This doesn’t mean that all successful people had great childhoods
You may be thinking ‘well I know someone who had an awful childhood and they are really successful so this doesn’t make sense.’
As I said before, we all react differently to our environments and experiences. You may know extremely successful people who had very unsupportive parents, or who were even treated badly. You may think that someone of great success couldn’t possibly have an inner belief system that says they are not good enough. I disagree.
Sometimes this inner voice can be the thing that drives someone to great extremes. This is because subconsciously they are trying to show the world that they really are the opposite of what their inner voice is telling them. Their outer life may seem that they are good enough on the surface. However, their inner child will be screaming for that pat on the back that they never had.
They may appear to have it all and you may presume that they think this too. They will also most likely appear to have bags of confidence and be quite self-assured. However, possibly without even knowing it, their inner child (subconscious mind) has this belief system. This means that they will always strive for more and never settle for what they have achieved because it will never (subconsciously) be good enough.
Ambition needs balance
Now having ambition is fantastic and being driven is a great attribute to have. However, if it is at the cost of other things it lacks balance, which can be damaging. Success is defined in different ways. People may have wealth but if you look more closely at their lives, you may see that it comes at a cost.
Are they balanced? There’s a big difference between being hard working and over-working yourself.
Is their health good? Do they put so much pressure on themselves that their health is suffering? If so, do they listen to their body and slow down? I imagine not.
Do they have great relationships in their life? There’s a chance that there will be some challenges within the relationships around them.
Even though these people have success, it does not mean that their childhood didn’t affect them. Success is not always defined by money.
In my opinion it is better for our children to grow up balanced, healthy and happy. Then if they follow their own path, dream big and are driven, the financial abundance will follow.
The lessons our parents teach us lay the foundations of our future
Now I am not sitting here on my high horse saying that we have to be perfect parents. We’re only human and we all have rubbish days when we know we could have done better. There are times when we don’t get it right. I, like many other parents, have moments when I feel like I’m totally losing my mind and have reacted to situations badly.
Getting it wrong at times is not the issue. What matters is how we then deal with it. By apologising to our children we teach them the importance of taking responsibility.
Now I know quite a lot of people who think that by doing this you are giving in. I disagree. You can still have strong boundaries and take responsibility for the part that you have played. Your kids may have driven you nuts and their behaviour might have been unacceptable. This most certainly needs addressing in a stern and balanced way so that they learn boundaries and consequences. However, if your reaction was also unacceptable, there is another opportunity here for you to not only set strong boundaries, but to also teach your children the importance of saying sorry when you get things wrong.
Your children are going crazy and behaving appallingly. They are hitting each other with their toys and it is the last straw. You lose your mind and start screaming at them like some sort of crazy person and then snatch their toys away. When you have calmed down, you go to see them to apologise for the way you reacted but then explain that their behaviour was unacceptable. You also reinforce that they cannot have those toys back until they learn to play nicely. You then spend time talking about why it’s important to not hit people and the consequences of that.
Here, you haven’t given in and given them their toys back. However, what you have done is show them how to say sorry when they make a mistake. Most importantly, you have also used this situation to teach your children the consequences of their actions. You have also helped them to get a deeper understanding of how they affect people.
Nobody lives through life without making mistakes. Being perfect and also expecting our children to be perfect is unrealistic. What is important is how we teach them to move forward.
Children imitate our behaviour and learn from what we do. It is essential to lead by example and to remember that how we consistently are with them, will make an imprint on their future.
Nurseries and childcare providers have an impact on our children
As much as parents affect their children’s development, childcare providers do too. The Early Years teaching resources they use, the opportunities for learning that they provide and the relationship they create with your children are key to their development.
Facilitating great learning experiences creates confident and successful learners. What’s more, a stimulating environment is key to healthy brain development. Nurseries and child care providers are experts in this field and the best ones will go above and beyond to ensure that children are nurtured in an environment that creates a wealth of learning opportunities. They will also realise that children need to feel safe and will make sure each child’s emotional needs are met.
Along with our belief systems, everything we achieve in life starts with our ability to imagine it first
We will only ever be able to create in our lives what we are capable of imagining. This is why it is so important that we nurture our children’s imaginations. If they have an inner belief system that they are capable and valued, along with an imagination that allows them to pursue dreams beyond the norm, they will be unstoppable.
Take Richard Branson. He would never have achieved the huge success he has done without the ability to visualise what he wanted in the first place. He then needed the confidence, self-belief and the creative ability to be able to try (and fail) until he got where he wanted to be.
In my opinion, imagination is more important than academic ability. The most successful people in the world quite often struggled in school. However, their imagination and beliefs gave them the ability to create their incredible reality.
We all have different levels of intellect. It is absolutely important to give children the opportunity to develop theirs at their own pace and to the best of their individual ability. However, it is equally important to create opportunities for them to develop their creativity and imagination.
We need to nurture imagination and support emotional wellbeing
Imagination is simply the ability to think of objects or circumstances that do not already exist. This means that imagination is not only important for creating our future, it is also important for problem solving and critical thinking. These are two important skills that we need in life. If a child gets their toy taken from them, they need to be able to imagine different ways to deal with this rather than just walloping the other child!
Nurturing imagination throughout a child’s early years is crucial because this is the time that children are the most receptive. They also have no limitations or inhibitions, which allows them to have the most incredible little imaginations full of excitement and wonder.
Studies have also shown that imagination actually increases brain development so not only does it help our children to succeed, it actually affects their inner wiring and how their brains function.
As wonderful as technology is, it is also changing the dynamic of childhood and children are spending a lot more time in front of a screen rather than playing. I am guilty of falling into the Peppa Pig trap at times!
Let’s face it, the world we live in is changing so it is even more important that we try to provide different opportunities for our children to explore their imagination throughout their early years.
Here are 6 ways to nurture your child’s imagination:
Enjoy storytime together
Books with vibrant colours and illustrations are amazing for children as they can also use them to make up their own stories
Provide props for children to use
Costumes and different props such as masks are great for children to do role-play. Acting out different scenarios also helps them to develop their verbal and social skills
Limit Screen Time
As a parent myself I know how easy it can be to slip into the habit of giving the kids an iPad or putting them in front of the TV to keep them busy while you are getting jobs done. I’m not going to sit here and claim that I don’t because I do. However, I do know that it’s best to limit screen time. We now live in a very digital world which makes this tough so at the very least we should maybe consider mixing screen time up with things like digital storybooks or games. At least these things will have a more positive impact on our children’s development than the strops of Miss Peppa Pig (that pig drives me crazy! Ha ha)
Singing & Music
Give your children toy instruments or things to make sounds with like pots, pans and a wooden spoon. Play loud music and let them dance freely. Structured music sessions are amazing but improvising stimulates their imagination. You might need earplugs but they will have a great time!
Make art and get creative
Give them paint, pens and pencils and a large piece of paper and let them get creative. Also give them a big lump of playdough and let them create whatever is in their mind. Go along with what they say they have made and encourage them to explore their ideas.
Combine storytime with activities
I write and illustrate children’s storybooks and one day in a desperate attempt to survive afternoon meltdowns with my 3 year old I stumbled across this concept! I used the illustrations and characters in my books to make printable games and activities for my little girl hoping it would keep her entertained and calm. Despite being a former teacher and having the ability to control 30 kids, I was struggling to take charge of the tiny human I had created so I decided to go back to basics and refer to my teaching days. Not only did these Early Years resources make afternoons go smoothly (miracle!), I realised it gave so many opportunities for my little girl to explore her imagination and creativity because throughout even the simplest of activities she could identify with the characters and storylines in the books!
I also realised that this supported her emotional wellbeing because we talked about the moral messages in the story while we were doing each task and she then got the opportunity to make sense of her own thoughts and feelings. This was the light bulb moment that led to me creating Early Years Story Box. A subscription website that provides digital Story Box Sets and Early Years resources. It is aimed at nurseries, preschools and childminders. However, I also opened it up to parents because I knew how much the resources had saved my sanity in those difficult hours of the day when my kids just lost the plot!
It’s not about being perfect but about the values we teach
Bringing children up is a huge responsibility and our actions and their environment have a profound effect on their future. However, this does not mean that you have to be perfect. At the end of the day it is important to remember that we are all doing our best and that we are only human. Teaching our children to cope with failure and how to take responsibility for their actions is just as important as nurturing their imagination and fuelling them with self-belief.
We all have bad days
Learning all of these things has made me far more mindful of the decisions I have made along my parenting journey. I know that I am certainly not perfect and like everyone else I have bad days.
This week I’ve had a particularly stressful week and I know that I haven’t had the patience that I usually have. Like every parent I have felt guilty but had to remind myself that I am only human. I gave my babies a cuddle and apologised for being grumpy. Then after a moment of intense mummy-guilt, I reminded myself that despite reacting in a way that I wasn’t proud of, I had just demonstrated to my children how to say sorry. I had also shown them how to take responsibility for their actions when they are in the wrong. These are 2 things that will make them kind and compassionate adults in the future. We don’t need to be perfect. It’s important to set good examples and remember that it’s the repeated actions and words that become the inner voice and wiring that guides our children.
We all have inner beliefs created in our early years
Everybody on earth has inner beliefs, no matter whether their early years were good, bad or just okay. The important thing is that we have good values. We need to teach our children to take responsibility for themselves and to mould confident, self assured little people who can move forward in life aiming for the stars and tackling every challenge they face in a balanced and empowered way.
Thank you for reading this article. I would love to know your thoughts so please feel free to comment below. Even better, I would love for you to become a part of our free online community where we all support each other and share ideas. Click here to join now and I will look forward to ‘meeting ‘ you soon!
Love Stacey x
‘Nurturing imagination & creativity through storytime’