Nature versus nurture: the importance of potential

by | May 26, 2020

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Your child is born with a particular genetic make-up, but that’s not the sole determining factor of his future. The way you raise him can help him to reach his full potential, writes educator Nadia Scrooby.

Becoming a family is not only about having children, it is about becoming a parent. Becoming a parent reveals the reality that every child is indeed unique and different.

Even in the very first moments of life, the birth cry is a good indicator of the temperament a child is born with. That confirms the age-old psychological debate: nature versus nurture. Is a person’s development predisposed in his DNA, or are the influence of life’s experiences and his environment greater?

In modern parenting culture, it is possible to prepare for parenthood, but I can’t help asking, have we become so civilised and technologically advanced that we don’t see what nature gives us? Each child is completely unique, and it leaves a great gap in preparing to become a parent. But, great indeed! What if we nurture what nature has instilled?

Nature versus nurture – the simple truth
Nature versus nurture presents two aspects that influence behaviour and development. Does a child become the product of their inherited, genetic characteristics or their acquired, learned characteristics?

Temperament refers to genetic traits and it is not something you choose. Temperament helps us understand why people have certain preferences and dislikes, natural strengths and weaknesses. It is also comforting to know that you are not only your temperament, but the environment you grew up in and your generation contributes to who you become.

But there’s more. To understand behaviour and development, we have to distinguish between temperament, character and personality.

Character is the true you. It is shaped by your natural temperament, influenced by circumstances and factors like culture, religion, education, attitude, principles and motives.
Personality is the outer expression of the inner self. There are four major personality types, determined by temperament, each with unique traits. Identifying and understanding your child’s personality takes a lot of pressure off parenting.

Keep in mind that a child is a little human, and that parenting a little human makes us responsible for fostering a child’s temperament, character and personality.

Understanding potential
We ultimately want to raise happy, balanced, focused children, with a positive influence on others. The key to unlocking a child’s potential lies in nurturing the child’s nature.
Albert Einstein started speaking at the late age of five, and he failed Maths at school, but his mother nurtured him to success. He reached his potential because his mother guided him in becoming who he should be. Instinctively she understood her child.

It is a parent’s responsibility to guide a child to become who he should be. Parents have the great – and exciting – duty to discover where a child’s potential lies. We all have potential, but different kinds of potential. Einstein, Mozart and Mandela were all different in their potential, but all equally influential.

It is important to cherish your child’s natural abilities, to unlock his potential. It is important to create opportunities for your child to discover, play, learn and develop. If you understand your child’s natural abilities, it is possible to nurture talent and potential, guiding your child in the right direction.

Parenting is all about cultivating your child’s natural strengths and not creating the child you wish to have. These traits are identifiable from the very first moments, through every developmental stage.

To be, or not to be?
Many parents struggle to allow their children to develop into their nature. The balance between the freedom to develop and discipline, is not that simple.

Because you want the best for your child, you might force your child into a direction that you think is ‘better’. The first truth you have to face, is that your child is radically different to you. Remember that each temperament has weaknesses and strengths. Focus on your child’s natural strengths and unique abilities, and teach him to improve his challenging characteristics.

Many factors contribute to a child’s identity, including unique traits, his rank in the family structure, rolemodels and interests. The second truth you have to face, is that your child is still developing. Allow it.

When a child’s nature isn’t nurtured, and a child is forced to become who he truly isn’t, it can hinder the journey through the developmental stages and possibly cause life-long anxiety.

Accept your child unconditionally! Your child might just surprise you and excel in something you never expected. After all, parenting is a journey of unexpected events.
Routine, discipline and rules will always ground your child, providing him with what is known, to have the courage to explore the unknown, in search of himself.

Responsibility, reinforcement and resilience
It remains a parent’s responsibility to develop a child optimally. Parents are the primary educators. Teachers and secondary caregivers can only reinforce what parents have already taught their children.

Parents have to give discipline with one hand and freedom with the other. The fact remains, that no matter how great it is to accomplish something as wonderful as nurturing your child’s nature, that they will make mistakes.

Children need to make mistakes to discover their own attributes. They have to fall, to learn how to get up: physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually. You need to teach a child that they are allowed to make mistakes, to be able to learn. Teach your child that obstacles are opportunities and change is certain. Empathy and adaptability will also result in emotional intelligence and resilience, helping them to become strong and kind individuals.

As Einstein said: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Tips and tricks

  • Spend time with your little one and observe his unique traits. Just 15 minutes of child-directed play per day will let you in on the mystery of who he truly is.
  • Use online resources for checklists and profiles. These research-based resources will help you identify your child’s temperament and personality. Remember, temperament is expressed in personality, and these tools are age specific, focusing on birth to two years, toddlers and teenagers. My favourites are and
  • Attend a parenting workshop like those on the abovementioned websites.
  • Learn to read your child’s unique behaviour as cues to determine his strengths and shortfalls. Learn from mistakes.
  • Accept your child’s challenges and change what can be changed. Accept the responsibility of raising a child with confidence.
  • Channel your child’s strengths into practical and realistic expectations and enjoy parenting a unique individual.

Your relationship with your child is the foundation you need to initiate his potential. Interaction between a parent and a child is irreplaceable in establishing a child’s nature, and guiding a parent in how and what to nurture in their child.

American author, William Martin wrote: “You do not have to make your children into wonderful people. You just have to remind them that they are wonderful people.”