A matter of nature
Development is affected by the interaction
between our genes and our environment
WRITTEN BY YASMIN JASWAL
THE GAP BETWEEN WHAT WEKNOW AND WHAT WE DO
In Canada, fewer than fiveper cent of children at everysocio-economic level are bornwith known limits to theirdevelopment. By school age,more than 20 per cent of childrenare behind their peers in theirphysical, social, language orcognitive development. In otherwords, almost all children are bornwith a strong potential to grow,learn and thrive, and by schoolage many have lost ground.
When children start schooland can’t hold a pencil, followinstructions or get along withother children, they are said tobe “vulnerable.” Not surprisingly,children from lower-incomefamilies are more likely to bevulnerable than children fromhigher-income families. Whatis surprising is that vulnerablechildren also come from middle-and upper-income families inlarge numbers. While the middleclass has a smaller percentage ofvulnerable children overall, theymake up a higher number justbecause of the size of the middleclass in Canada and Alberta.
What this tells us is that nospecific population group canbe exclusively targeted forintervention in the early childhoodyears—either by income, ethnicity,family risk factors or traditionalrisk factors. Vulnerability cutsacross all groups.
Children don’t just grow; they develop.
Children develop through differentexperiences and by changing theirbehaviours accordingly. Each childdevelops in their own time. Thedevelopmental process, which involvesphysical, cognitive, social, language andemotional development, is somethingevery child goes through and is affectedby many factors.
“It is a natural process, and it is aresilient process,” says Jane Hewes,the associate dean of the Facultyof Education and Social Work atThompson Rivers University in BritishColumbia.
“It also very much is affected and
influenced by the environment that the
child is in.”
The interaction of genes and
environment, the combination of nature
and nurture (also known as epigenetics),
shapes childhood development.
After birth, babies are able torecognize faces, copy others and interactwith their environments from theearliest stages of development.
A child’s genes determine which
traits he is born with, but factors such
as experiences, family income and
relationships with family and friends
determine whether or not some traits
will be activated. Experiences operate
like a signature on the genes, setting up
As a parent (or a caring, supportiveadult in a child’s life) your relationshipwith your child is particularly importantto them, especially during the first fewyears of their life. How responsiveadults interact with children plays arole in how children form and maintainrelationships, control their emotions,think about the world around them andgrow.
Alberta has a number of innovativeprograms for children who are at higherrisk of poor development. The earlierchildren and families are connected tothese programs, the better.
We can help children develop in
healthy ways. Talking with them,
supporting them and giving them a
safe and stable environment can all
lead to stronger development. For
more information, visit MyHealth.
Alberta.ca and search early childhood
development. |a P h o