I have a new granddaughter. She is nine months old now, and I am delighting in watching her become the person she is meant to be in this world. Even at this young age she has decided preferences, and she has two devoted parents, not to mention grandparents on both sides who are wild about her. This little girl is surrounded by so much love and care.
Human babies come into this world as the most fragile and helpless of creatures. They are totally dependent for food, shelter and protection on their parents. For their brains to develop properly they must receive these things, AS WELL AS the intangibles of loving and responsive interaction with caring adults. We learned years ago that children who are physically cared for but emotionally ignored grow up with impaired ability to attach. This distortion of attachment impairs adult relationships in major ways.
Dan Siegel, author of The Developing Mind, describes a baby’s brain as a first draft – the child has some hard-wired processes (handedness, various kinds of talents like perfect pitch), but the expression of many of the genes a child carries is also determined by environmental experiences. Nature vs. Nurture? No, Nature AND Nurture. Both are significant in the development of a cohesive self. Human beings are meant to develop in the context of relationship. The human brain is a relational organism that does not develop well in isolation from others.
Does this mean that the many children across the world who are born into war, into poverty, into natural disasters are doomed? It does not – because human beings also have a remarkable ability to persist in the face of very challenging circumstances. Sometimes the existence of even one adult in a child’s life who responds to them with care and concern is enough to give that child the hope for tomorrow that is needed to surmount the troubles of today. Teachers, aunts, uncles, caring neighbors – all have a role to play in helping kids in difficult circumstances.
My granddaughter is lucky – she will likely never have to lack for love or response. Millions of other children are not so situated. Perhaps you have an hour a week to do something as simple as read a book at an elementary school in your city. Being read to is one of the most important ways that children learn to love and appreciate books; this leads to better reading skills, better success in school, and better ability to connect to others.
How to change the world – one hour at a time. Think about it!
About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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