Environmental Factors That Influence 5 Areas of Child Development
There are many factors that influence child development. While there are some factors, such as genetics, that are out of our control, environmental factors are within our control. There is an ongoing debate about which factor is more influential—nature or nurture—but there is no denying that the world we live in plays a major role in shaping who we become.
How Does a Child's Environment Impact Their Development?
The environment in which a child grows up—the family, the home, the neighborhood, the school—all play a big role in how the child develops. During these early years, the child learns mainly through interactions with their environment and with other people. This is how they learn to solve problems, socialize, adopt good habits, and develop the necessary motor skills and strength to function properly. We'll go over ways environmental factors can influence each of the five main areas of child development.
5 Areas of Child Development
- Physical (size, strength, and motor control and coordination)
- Intellectual (thinking, learning, and problem solving)
- Emotional (learning appropriate responses to events, recognizing one's own and others' emotions, expressing feelings)
- Social (skills needed to successfully interact with others)
- Moral (developing a conscience, differentiating right from wrong, and understanding the impact of actions/words)
The Importance of Family for the Growing Child
Family is arguably the most important contributor to a child’s development. Growing up, they will observe everything from behaviors to relationship dynamics and internalize these observations as examples of how to behave. In this way, how they socialize with others stems largely from how they see their parents, siblings, and other relatives interacting with each other. Positivity and love in the family can in turn help the child be positive and loving towards others in their life. This extends to their emotional and moral development as well. Their sense of right and wrong closely mirrors the family’s moral compass. They can learn what behaviors are appropriate/inappropriate and what consequences can come from those behaviors.
Parenting style can also have a big impact. The family that invests more time and energy will see more positive growth, even in intellectual development. Read to the child and with the child. Spend time playing with them. Talk about their day. Give them advice, but also ask for their advice and opinion. This gives them an opportunity to reflect and think on their own, improving their problem-solving skills.
The key here is to spend time with them and give them your attention. Obviously, the family that abuses a child will severely stunt all aspects of their growth. But indifference or neglect can have a damaging effect as well. Letting the child do whatever they want, not reprimanding them when they do something wrong, or not praising them when they do something right—this will only promote bad habits.
The Importance of the Child’s Community
The child’s community is also an important factor. How are the schools? What types of services and opportunities are there in the community? Is there access to good health care?
Children often spend a large part of the day in school, so it will serve the child best to carefully choose the best school for them. Do your research. What is the school’s teaching philosophy? Who are the administrators and teachers? Are there enriching extracurricular activities? If possible, plan a visit to the school with your child to see if it will be a good fit. If there is only one school available in your district, there are still things you can do to make sure your child is getting the most from their time at the school. Meet with the principal, join the parent/teacher organization, and volunteer at the school.
Does the community have a library, parks, and community centers for sports and other activities? When your child is old enough, consider getting them their own library card. Getting them passionate about reading early on will jumpstart their academic career. Parks and community centers will provide them with ways to stay active and socialize with others. Instead of internet and video games, encourage them to participate in recreational sports or other community activities. Check your local library, newspaper, and hospital for child development or enrichment classes. You may find that many are free and open to the public.
Does your community have good health care? Are there reputable hospitals, clinics, and doctors in the area? You may be surprised to hear that a state capital city in the US did not have adequate health care for my disabled child, so we had to drive to another city for services and eventually moved to that city.
Ways to Help a Child Grow
- Promote good eating habits.
- Keep active.
- Spend quality time together.
- Ensure they get enough sleep.
- Be consistent and fair with discipline.
- Limit their time on electronic devices.
- Read, read, read!
Socio-Economic Status Can Have a Huge Impact
It is true that poorer families are at a disadvantage when it comes to providing the richest environment for a child to grow. Many families must rely on public education, which may not be the best option in their area. What if a child needs special services to aid development? What if the parents spend most of their time working multiple jobs just to keep a roof over their heads? Children living in poverty may also have poor nutrition, limiting their ability to reach their full potential.
Get involved with your child's schooling. Check and see if your local school has a child development program. Your community may even have an early intervention program for little ones who qualify. Head Start is a national program in the US that provides developmental assistance to low-income children from birth to age five. When my children were toddlers, we took free classes designed to help child development and parenting skills. It was a county program I happened to hear about from another parent.
For parents who must spend a lot of hours at work, remember it is the quality of time spent with the child that counts. Make the most of your time off with the family. Be sure to eat meals together and really listen to each other. Good nutrition can still be found on a budget. Watch sales and stock up on meat when the price is at the lowest. Consider growing a garden for a double win—fresh produce and a rewarding, fun family activity. Even if times are tough, children will thrive in a close-knit loving family.
Is There a Factor That's Most Important?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2012 Sarah Johnson