Nature or Nurture
Just how much influence do we have in our children’s development and when does it really start? As my daughter and daughter-in-law both round the corner to their final trimesters, I am awed by how much we know now about child development and how much we didn’t know when these mothers-to-be were being raised. And somehow we all survived. But perhaps this is because we do have some intuitiveness when our children are born, things we do instinctively that are the right things for children, but now can be backed up with scientific evidence.
The indigenous tribes are perfect examples of having “a knowing” as they have had rituals for pregnancy and child birth that date back thousands of years. Sobonfu Some wrote the book called Welcoming Spirit Home. She is an initiated member of the Dagara tribe of West Africa. She has written about the rituals her tribe practices during pregnancy and birth. In one ritual these tribes have a “Hearing Ritual” when the fetus is about six months old and “now can hear” and in this ritual the people in the community come together to say and do the right things to let the “incoming soul” know that the community is ready for him/her and wanting the baby to be here. The tribes’ belief is that it is very important because the state of the mother, father, and the people surrounding them has a huge impact on this incoming soul. And so the tribe works hard to not bring negativity into the child’s environment as they feel that everyone needs to align with the spirit of the incoming soul. The tribal people believe that it indeed does take a village to raise a child and so they participate in the rituals. A shrine is created where the tribal people can bond and communicate with the incoming soul. And as you read further, you see they have it right. They are setting the tone for imprinting and for giving the baby the right messages.
Dr. Bruce Lipton Ph. D, Cellular Biologist at Stanford Research, has begun to show that parents actually influence the genetic development of their fetus. His experiments have examined in great detail the processes by which cells receive information. He states that our environment impacts what we receive and starts as early as in utero. Research suggests, that what is going on in the parents lives during this process of “genomic imprinting” has a profound influence on the mind and body of their developing fetus. His research shows that the environment is already affecting the fetus’s development. The fetus, the baby, and then the toddler are reading the environment through his/her senses. The behaviors and attitudes of the parents affect the development of the child and the child’s own belief system. The parents’ perception of the world is imprinting upon the baby. The environmental attitudes are imprinting on the baby. Interestingly, aboriginal cultures have recognized the influence of the environment for centuries. Prior to conceiving a child, couples ceremonially purify their minds and bodies. It seems that science is showing us that even as early as conception, the fetus is downloading beliefs and attitudes.
From six months on, in uteral, the baby is hearing remarkably well. In fact, the amniotic fluid is actually a better conductor of sound than without the fluid. Not only is the fetus hearing, she/he is feeling and sensing the environment. The baby may not know the words, the language, but he/she is hearing and picking up on the emotional charge. The babies are learning about those people in their world and they have the capacity to be bonding, becoming familiar with the voices, the people, and the emotions that go with it. And with this comes the continued development of the brain with new dendrites and new synapses growing with each new experience.
Perceptions begin to develop within the fetus. The perceptions are programmed into the brain. They are developed by watching, feeling, or listening and becoming aware of the mother’s perceptions, the father’s perceptions, and the environmental experiences. The fetus, the baby, or the toddler, at each stage, takes in these perceptions and downloads them into the brain. It becomes automatic – tapes that are prerecorded and accessed that are learned as a stimulus response from watching. And it is these filters that the child operates from. The child doesn’t have to think about it, he/she just knows it from having watched it. So environment has a big impact on the development of the fetus and then the baby. And it makes sense that biologically the fetus is being equipped for what he/she will need in the environment that he/she will be living.
Dr. Joseph Chilton Pearce takes this to the next level when he talks about imprinting that happens after birth that lays the foundation for the baby’s life.
After birth there are certain systems that have to be activated that are built into the neuro-structure of the baby. If not activated the system is compromised from the beginning. Both language and hearing develop in the womb so by the time the baby is born, the baby is ready for language. So the biggest focus after birth for the baby is the visual world.
Dr. Pearce says that built into the human brain is an imprint, a neuro pattern, that preprograms the baby to recognize the human face and nothing else. When you place a baby 6-12 inches from the face of his/her mother or father, the baby locks into the eyes of that face. And with that locking into the eyes, the entire brain is activated. It is as if a light switch is flipped on and the brain becomes activated. It has been said that it is the establishment of the greatest love affair in the universe when the mother and baby lock eyes and meet each other just after birth.
And Pierce talks of other important functions that are activated during this imprinting time. Other things happen when the baby is 6-12 inches from the face – one being that the heart is being imprinted. The baby’s heartbeat is next to the mother’s heartbeat which actually becomes synchronized to match the mother’s heartbeat. This keeps the baby’s heartbeat stable. The heart itself is a major source of intelligence in the human being and it must be modified in birth through this process, through the bond of love or it too can be compromised.
And this begins what we have thought of as the “first” stage of development when the baby learns that he/she can trust the world. Locking into the face/the eyes is imperative for the baby and its beginning process of attachment. We are learning more and more how this is so much more than the emotional process of attachment. It ties into activating systems such as the brain, which lays the foundation towards higher level development.
The difficult part to talk about is the tragedy of what happens when children are deprived of this basic imprint and they stay locked into the primal survival mechanisms. These are the children who will be prone to violence and rage because what has been compromised is the basic survival intelligence of the system which is designed to be developed within the first year of life. So take advantage of what we know and make a significant difference in your child’s development in those early years. It sets the stage for their entire life.
Sobonfu Some, Welcoming Spirit Home
Bruce Lipton, The Biology of Belief
http://www.brucelipton.com/ Conscious Parenting
Joseph Chilton Pearce, Magical Child
DVD – Cellular Echoes – Environmental Influences in the Journey form the Womb to the World
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
- Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.
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