One question every parent wonders about is “What is most important in a person’s development—heredity or environment?” The “Nature vs. Nurture” debate has been argued, studied and misunderstood for years. “Naturists” believe that genetics are the defining feature of development; “Nurturists” say it’s the environment. While much remains unanswered, there is a clear understanding that the most important consideration is how nature and nurture interact.

For example, a child may be genetically disposed to be tall but if denied healthy food and exercise, he may not reach his growth potential. Or a child predisposed to a high IQ may not develop to her intelligence potential if not provided a strong exposure to learning opportunities. Recent science suggests that some genes may literally turn off or on based on environmental factors, particularly in the first years of life.

What does all this mean when raising a child? Well, you made your genetic choice when you selected your spouse. I doubt that decision was very high on your list at the time but it matters once you decide to have children! The good news is that once your child is conceived the decision on genetics is out of your hands, so you might as well focus on what is still in your control—the environment you provide your child.

Does this mean you should ignore genetic predisposition? Absolutely not! First, make sure your child gets exposure to the widest possible range of experiences. If and when s/he shows an interest in a given area, provide encouragement and support. If child suddenly lose interest, don’t despair. This is all part of the natural sorting process that takes place as children grow. The key is to understand that learning starts right at birth, so it’s never too early to create a positive, fun, learning environment for your newborn child.