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Impact of Environment on the Development of a Child

We are usually of the understanding that infants are born and need to be fed and bathed for a few years, then have to be sent to school for development and voila, 18 years later they will turn into mature adults who take care of their own needs. We approach children like investments, hoping that they will grow with time, into two-fold of what we put into them. However, quite often we fail to see that children are more than just hopes, ambitions and dreams. Children are human, with their own set of emotions, thoughts and struggles. In this article, I will bring to you aspects that are vital for a child’s development but are often overlooked under the assumption of ‘bache chote hai, unhe nahi pata’ or, children are too small to understand.

The human brain is malleable, constantly changing and evolving based on the theory of repetitive use given by Dr. Bruce D. Perry. For example, a child goes to school and practices mathematical equations everyday. In an active brain, the brain’s neurons are constantly firing, connecting, and weaving themselves together to form new functional connections. These connections are strengthened with use and fade away with lack of use.

The experiences of childhood act as primary architects of the brain’s capabilities throughout the rest of life. These organizing childhood experiences can be consistent, nurturing, structured and enriched - resulting in flexible, responsible, empathic and intelligent contributors to society. Or, all too often, childhood experiences can be neglectful, chaotic, violent and abusive – resulting in impulsive, aggressive, remorseless, and intellectually-impoverished members of society.

We often resort to punishment or instilling fear into children to make them respectful and obedient. However, obedience isn’t a character trait that should be associated with humans in the first place. By making a child prone to obeying commands, we kill their sense of reasoning, and make them vulnerable to accepting maltreatment. For example, if a child is hit every time they make a mistake, their brain will condition into thinking of it as normal. With time, these children will grow into adults who accept abuse from their partners without fighting back at all.

Fear changes the way we perceive the world around us. In a state of calm, we use the higher, more complex parts of our brain to process and act on information. In a state of fear, we use the lower, more primitive parts of our brain. As the perceived threat level goes up, the less thoughtful and the more reactive our responses become. It has been seen that children who are talked to about their behavior with gentleness and understanding, often become more amiable than children who are screamed at, humiliated or hit.

In childhood, a reaction to a fear inducing situation may be freeze, flight or fight. Meaning that the child either freezes in fear, flights from the situation in the form of dissociation or fights back. In a constant fear inducing environment, these reactions turn into behaviors and become a part of the child’s personality. The criminals we hear of, or the adults drowned in drugs and alcohol were once children who were subjected to fearful environments.

Every action of ours is actually a reaction, either from the present scenario, or due to learned past behaviors, thus it is increasingly important to create safe and fear-free environments for children. Every word and every action grows to have a greater impact on their lives.

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