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Nature AND Nurture – both matter in play

In my last blog, I wrote about the neuroscience and physiology of nature and how the answer is in the trees, which led me to think about that age-old debate – nature versus nurture. It made me realise that in play, nurture is also key to successful child development. It is nature AND nurture that form a solid foundation for our children.

Nurture is imperative – we know increasingly that love really matters, love shapes the infant’s developing brain. Just being looked at fires neurons in a child’s brain for communication and social learning; being hugged and rocked builds children’s sensory systems, and being sung to builds language and listening skills. Children who are loved grow up to become more confident, happier children with stronger physiologies, better abilities to stay on task and learn and far more able to build positive friendships that carry them through the tides of life.

The terminology of the WHO initiative launched last year that focuses on child development for the first 1000 days is aptly called the nurturing care framework. It was created because research showed nutrition, safety and health are not enough for the young infant – children need responsive adults who care for them and play with them. Adults who see them, mirror them, love them. Children’s brains do not fully develop without love, and that is why the bottom of our Developmental Play Pyramid is all about attachment and safety – the power of positive relationships.

And yet we do not often look at the real power and value of love. Sue Gerhardt in her wonderful book “Why Love Matters” gives countless examples of the power of love to develop children who are resilient, empathetic, freer from mental health problems and ultimately far happier and successful than those who are abused and neglected. It is not rocket science and yet we do not focus on it enough.

We don’t always pay the nurturing professions fairly, we don’t give adequate maternity leave in many countries to allow parents to have proper time to bond and nurture. In many countries, fathers get no paternity leave at all because it’s not considered of value. And young parents aren’t often empowered to be with their children enough, and instead, they find they work long hours away from the infants they need to love, just so they can get ahead. We really need to rethink our priorities.

So if you are someone who is in a caring and nurturing profession, or if you are a parent torn between work and nurture, please holdfast. Relationships matter and you are gold. When you cuddle your child, play with them, laugh with them, show them you love them by seeing them and being with them, you are building something magnificent – a strong foundation for a better future for that child.

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