Open Access The nature and nurture of child development

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Although the reduction of child morbidity and the promotion of physical growth are important and necessary aspects of child development, these criteria by themselves do not define the adequacy of children's development. There are also behavioural-developmental criteria that emphasize the promotion of competence. The competent individual is one who can effectively adapt to and interact with his or her environment. Traits that define individual competence fall into five domains: cognitive skills, temperament/personality, motivation, self-perceptions, and interpersonal style. These domains are not completely independent, and there is at least partial overlap. The expression of individual differences in competence is partially moderated by context. Further, not all children achieve competence. Over time some children fall further and further behind their peers in their developmental course. In understanding what biological and psychosocial factors influence the development of individual differences in competence, four principles are critical.

First, most aspects of individual competence are multidetermined. This means that interventions designed to facilitate development must be multifocal in nature, integrating influences from different domains. Second, influences upon children's development tend to be specific in nature. This emphasizes the importance of targeting specific interventions to specific outcomes. Third, individual developmental influences rarely operate in isolation from each other. Developmental risk factors tend to cluster together, as do developmentally protective influences. The extent of the impact of a given developmental risk factor will depend, in part, on the degree to which this risk factor covaries with other risk factors. Fourth, developmental risk and protective factors operate across time. Early exposure to developmental risks may increase the individual's susceptibility to later risk factors (sensitizing) or may limit the degree to which the individual can profit from later exposure to protective factors such as intervention (blunting). Early exposure to developmentally protective factors may attenuate the impact of later exposure to developmental risk factors (steeling).

Principles underlying the nature and nurture of individual competence emphasize the need to use an IT-AT intervention strategy (Integrate Target Across Time). This means the need to integrate multi-domain interventions, target our intervention strategies to different contexts, risk conditions, and outcomes, and provide for recurring interventions across time to maximize the chances of longterm gains in individual competence.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 1999

More about this publication?
  • Established in 1978, the Food and Nutrition Bulletin (FNB) is a peer-reviewed journal published quarterly by the Nevin Scrimshaw International Nutrition Foundation.

    The focus of the journal is to highlight original scientific articles on nutrition research, policy analyses, and state-of-the-art summaries relating to multidisciplinary efforts to alleviate the problems of hunger and malnutrition in the developing world.

    Food and Nutrition Bulletin's 2012 Impact Factor: 2.106

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