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Is it nurture vs nature?

We all want to bring out the best in our children but are some youngsters bolder, braver or better behaved than others in spite of us? Is ‘fear of flying’ something innate or is it learned behaviour? Does trouble just find some kids faster than others?

Psychologists and psychotherapists have long grappled with the question of whether disposition and personality traits are inherited. For years we’ve been wondering whether genes operate in isolation. And are genes an excuse for a child’s angry behaviour or shy style?

Today, we know that there’s more to it than just what nature gives us. Experts point, instead, to the interaction between genes and a youngsters, early life experiences, citing a study of 1500 teenagers from all walks of life who were coddled and overprotected During the study, teens were asked to commented on their own skills, confidence and decision readiness. It’s no surprise that the more overprotective the parents, the less leadership-confident and independent the child felt, regardless of their ability. Fact is, these kid also struggled more with exams and decision-making in later life.

The good news: regardless of the time in life, experts say, behaviour changes can happen. By way of example, Judith Locke, author of The Bonsai Child—a parenting book written to help parents nurture their child’s potential at any level. Genes aside, Locke calls for kids to lean towards autonomous experiences in order to develop both their everyday decision- making leadership skills. Nothing to do with genetics! This, she feels, can be learned if parents help kids learn through trial and error. She talks of them learning how to handle constructive feedback, gain financial independence and employ solution based thinking.

Of course, change won’t happen overnight, genes or no genes. But, if you take a look at what your child is experiencing at home and at school, you’ll likely be able to get clued into why they’re acting the way they are. According to Locke and others, if you create the right experiences, regardless of the circumstances, you’re child can overcome much more than you might expect.

But don’t be fooled, its not so easy to grow a bonsai tree.

Caroline Tapp-McDougall

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