Are Clever Children Product of Nature or Nurture?

Judging by the subtle and not too subtle parental competition in many baby and toddler groups I have the misfortune to attend; and the number of products in the market promising to turn our babies into little Einstiens, many of us want to have clever children. And that is perfectly normal. After all, as parents we should be our children’s number one fan.

So, the question is – what makes children clever? Is it something that parents can influence during the children’s infant years? Are children born clever or are they product of their parents’ nurturing? The answer is ‘both.’ Geniuses are not made by parents who cram their children with academic knowledge. They were already born gifted, and are nurtured to their full potential by their parents.

Parents can help their children developed but they can’t perform miracles. For example, a child with poor coordination may be trained to play football, but will never make it to the premier league. (Otherwise, all the boys who spent all their free time and weekends training would have all been signed up by premiership clubs.) A coach may be able to teach a child with a poor eye for the ball to play tennis, but that child will never become a Wimbledon champion. A child with zero interest in Physics can be taught it but will never be another Einstein. Of course, this doesn’t mean that parents should accept that their child is average. And it’s definitely not a reason for children not to try to improve on what they are born with.

However, the focus on the baby’s development should not be on cleverness but on developing the baby’s existing potential. Each child is born with potential, but they vary. Many children may not have the making of the next Roger Federer, Michael Schumacher or Adele, but they all have the potential for love, patience, hard work, problem-solving and effective communication, skills that are important and necessary in their adult life.

Pushing babies and children to reach beyond their capabilities will simply lead to frustrations and misery. It is far easier and more productive to work with what they already have. The world only needs one tennis player to occupy a number one slot at a time, but it needs people to manage other people, to run businesses, to teach, to nurse, to keep machines going. These tasks don’t need geniuses, they need people who have the ability and willingness to learn and work. They need people who have the skills to get along with others, people who are willing to work beneath their own perceived abilities to get the work done.

Likewise, if a baby is born clever, restricting his ability will end up in the same frustrations and misery. Making children conform to the norm, when he is above that, is a recipe for failure and bad behaviour.

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