I’ve spent a lot of time in the presence of a particular little boy that I’ve known since birth — he’s almost five now. I previously assumed that a child was more sponge-like, a “tabula rasa” soaking up his surroundings, becoming a product of his environment. Now though, I’m struck by the pre-existing character that seems to be in place. Natural tendencies find their outlet within the given environment. I don’t get the feeling that I’m teaching him, but rather his abilities are simply revealed over time.
For instance, take walking. His mother didn’t teach him the mechanics of walking, she simply stood him up and he stumbled towards her, improving over a short time. Similarly with talking, we didn’t teach him sound formations with the mouth or even grammar, he just started speaking. A few words at first, then sentences. He seems to see what’s possible then attempts those activities himself, often adding or adapting.
Even with more advanced activities such as math or video-games, I still don’t feel like I’m teaching him. The speed at which mathematical concepts were adopted and applied implies an aptitude already present. And the aptitude for video-games is ridiculous, actually matching or exceeding my abilities in some aspects by age four. He’d often watch video-game videos and apply what he saw within the actual game — but beyond mere mimicry, he’d adapt and problem-solve, displaying ample creativity.
So I don’t feel as though I’m his instructor. Our role as parents seems to be: provide food and shelter, prevent him from exploring avenues that could be injurious, display affection as well as empathy towards any discomfort, remain respectful and considerate of his feelings, encourage smiles and laughter, engage in play, expose him to different avenues of expression, listen and converse. Essentially, create a hospitable environment in which he can be himself.
In the “nature versus nurture” debate, I’ve swung hard to the “nature” side. Learning seems more about gaining confidence rather than mechanical training. His abilities appear as if they’re unlocked via prompting at particular stages. With gentle prodding along the way, he’s been able to do what’s expected, no rote training required. The trick was not to rush a particular skill before the time was right, we simply let him know it existed and periodically encouraged its practice.
So in my mind, a child comes with a pre-existing personality — that’s his nature. Nurture on the other-hand, is not about teaching or steering the child, but providing a suitable setting for him to develop his own path through life.