I have two children. One has red hair and blue eyes, the other has blond hair and brown eyes. Even though they have different dads, they are still 50% my genes. And even though they have 50% different genes, they are similar in a lot of ways. Obviously, it is nature that determines what they look like, but how much of who they are, how they behave and how they sleep is nature and how much is nurture?
There was a time when social scientists stated that nature prevailed over nurture when it came to human behaviour, and you were either born “good” or born “bad”. The flip side to that argument was that humans were born as a “clean slate” and all our personality and behaviour traits were learnt. We now know that neither of these are correct, and although some aspects of our personalities and behaviour are ingrained in our genes, a lot are the result of the influences of the world around us.
I often meet families who feel that their children are “bad sleepers” because dad or mum was, or that their children’s tantrums are out of control because that is how they themselves were as children. Thankfully, because nature and nurture are so intertwined, we can use external influences to change the way our children behave and sleep, rather than resigning ourselves to years and years of sleep deprivation and screaming kids!
By changing the external influences that compound the difficult behaviour and replacing them with influences that will drive more positive behaviour, you can change the way your child sleeps or behaves. This may mean pushing yourself, as a parent, to do something that doesn’t come naturally and may conflict with how you believe you should be parenting, but how we behave has been influenced by our genes and the world around us, so there is no reason why we can’t change our behaviour to change our children’s behaviour.
Shouty parents are likely to have shouty kids because the children copy their parents’ behaviour. If you’re a shouty parent and you want your children to stop shouting at you and arguing with everything you say, look at your own behaviour and see how you can change it (nurture). We do have different temperaments, so there may be some aspects of your behaviour that you can change easily, and others that you can’t because they were there when you were born (nature).
Mums suffering with PND often have very fractious, difficult babies, but usually, once the PND has been treated and has subsided, the babies calm down and are much easier to handle (nurture). However, if the PND is undiagnosed, the behaviour can become ingrained and can be more difficult to change. And if a mother has a family history of anxiety, there is a chance that their baby will be more anxious than others (nature and nurture).
If parents have an unhealthy diet, but try to offer their children healthy food, their children are still likely to choose to the unhealthy food their parents eat over the healthy food they are offered, because they see what their parents are eating, and it influences their choices (nurture). But if you eat healthily and your child becomes a difficult with food, unless it is a medical issue (nature), you can usually encourage a child to eat healthy options (nurture) even though it is often a long and painful road doing so!
If we swear in front of our children, we can’t really get cross with them when they use bad language (nurture). But you can adapt your language around your child so that they don’t learn the bad words!
Children whose parents play guitars brilliantly are more likely to play guitar than those whose parents can’t. Children or football players are likely to be good at football. We learn through imitation, so the more we see of something, we quicker we are going to learn the associated skills (nurture). Add to that any genetic disposition (nature) and there is the potential for a child to excel.
Some adults naturally wake early (larks), function well at the start of the day and go to bed relatively early (nature). Other struggle to wake up and function and are far more productive towards the end of the day (owls) and stay up late. Most adults are somewhere in between, but the children of the parents who are larks or owls are likely to follow their parents’ sleep patterns (nature). However, many children will go through phases of waking early due to habit or routine, and this can be reset by adjusting their routine (nurture).
There is a lot of debate of the increase in ADD and ADHD diagnoses, and how many cases are in fact due to diet, sleep and parenting (nurture) and how many are genuine cases (nature).
So, although we may look at our children and cringe or chuckle at some of the things they do because they are just like we were at their age, if we don’t like what they are doing, we should at least TRY to remould it. The behaviour may not be in their genes, it could just be the result of us parenting them as our parents parented us…