Factors Affecting the Development of a Child

‘Neuroses are only acquired during early childhood even though their symptoms may not make their appearance until much later. The events of the first year are of paramount importance for a child’s whole subsequent life’. (Freud, 1902) Regardless of age, nationality, gender or ethnicity every human has something in common; we are all born as babies. This essay will examine and research factors in depth in order to simplify the complicated process of identifying key factors including scientific data as well as theories and methods derived from experts of different fields.

A diverse view will be analysed of the developing process in order to understand the intricate events underlying these factors from the first beat of the heart to a moment by moment development and co-ordination of thousands of biological events of the nervous and endocrine systems of the new-born will also be monitored. Our research will engage in a holistic approach, reflecting on the nativism versus empiricism debate.

After looking at a broad spectrum of topics, issues and views and their implications on certain theories and methodologies, this evidence will guide us to conclude a hypothesis on factors that relate to the effect of the development of a baby in its first year. Looking from an evolutionary perspective, biological explanations suggest that the bond of attachment occurs naturally as a result of innate urges on the part of their baby and their carer during a critical period (Bowlby).

In support of this, Lorenz carried out an experiment on geese that had just hatched and been removed from their mothers, only for them to see humans and sure enough they imprinted the scientist instead of their mothers. Similarly, this lead Bowlby to hypothesize that both human infants and mothers has evolved an innate need made in an optimal time which propelled them towards their mothers. For this reason he also predicted that young children who do not experience a warm and continuing attachment in the first year would fail to develop a healthy relationship in the future.

In other words Bowlby claimed that ‘mother love in infancy is as important for mental health as are vitamins and proteins for physical health’. In contrast, a longitudinal study conducted on a large number of boy’s aged 9-12 years found quite a few who had been separated from their mothers as infants but seemed well adjusted as they entered adolescence (Rutter, 1933). However, causality is difficult to determine making it difficult to disentangle the effect of maternal separation on later behaviour as there may be other confounding factors that may contribute or even cause the final result.

By far, the most critical blow to attachment theory comes from ‘reversal’ studies which show early disruption followed by complete recovery (Clarke and Clarke). Similarly, recent research has shown that babies are much more flexible and resilient than Bowlby thought and the bond between the mother and child is not irreplaceable or irreversible but babies are capable of forming attachments to several adults and have been revealed possible and successful e. g. adopted children (The Tizard study of adopted children).

Still, much of this information is based on retrospective data and so may not be accurate in drawing firm conclusions to maternal attachment being an exclusive factor that can affect the development of babies in their first year of life. Additionally, the human givens approach also asserts the view that there are biological needs which when not met lead to severe distress in humans such as an infant growing up in a socially deprived environment.

This has also been positively correlated to poorer health and thus weaker cognitive development in young children (DCSF, 2009) which may be because living in a low income household or deprived area makes it more likely that infants will be exposed to risk factors that affect their life chances for example domestic violence, smoking, illness, low aspirations etc. (SETF, 2008) and even poor nutrition. Like all mammals, humans obtain life-sustaining nourishment through suckling and throughout the history of the human species; the only or primary source of nourishment for infants was breast milk which has many virtues (Newman, 1995).

Alongside it also involves the necessary skin-to skin contact from the mother which gives the baby a feeling of warmth and security as well as strengthening the infant’s immune system. In spite of this, the majority of infants are still formula-fed predominantly in undeveloped countries where poor, uneducated parents often dilute the formula in an effort to make the expensive powder last longer. As a result, in such circumstances the parent’s attempts to promote the health of their babies end up having the opposite effect (Popkin and Doan, 1990) with later development of inadequate growth and physical deficiencies.

And although every individual has a ‘blueprint’ for growth, but realisation of this growth potential is only possible if nutrient supplies in childhood are adequate (Jackson, 1996). From this it could again be inferred that situational factors such as poverty also have a detrimental effect on childhood development which is why low birth weight is more likely in children from lower socio economic groups. This has been exemplified from the recent case of Humzah khan whose mother starved him in a cot for 21 months and was more concerned about feeding her alcohol addiction in place of her malnourished son.

Although the health services were called they were turned away many times before the case was brought into global attention which points to the difficulty in gaining access to the private sphere of one’s home. On the whole, Statistics do highlight that children from low-income households are more likely to experience problems with nutrition leading to a negative influence on the mental well-being of children and in the long run may even lead to childhood obesity.

Consequently, health economics even point to the bidirectionality of this relationship and propose that ‘poverty breeds ill-health, ill-health maintains poverty’ (Wagstaff, 2002). Furthermore, scientific evidence also illustrates that infants with vulnerable and stressful environments at home can lead to physical changes that affect a baby’s cognitive ability and performance of their brain in the first year of life (DCSF).

Neuropsychologists demonstrate how the negative impact of stress sculpts the developing brain architecture by reducing the number of synapses in the prefrontal cortex and thus weakening the connections in neurones. Besides, other scientific research also explains that that excess amount of cortisol also has major toxic effects on a developing child as well as the ACE study pyramid which illustrates that certain experiences during a child’s first year of life are major risk factors for the leading cause of illness, trauma and even death in later life.

Hence, this gives reason for us to believe how crucial the environment is as a factor that can affect the development of babies in their first year of life. However, unlike broken bones irreversible maldevelopment of brain areas mediating empathy resulting from emotional neglect in infancy is not readily available.

On the other hand while rarely studied in humans the neurodevelopmental impact of sensory deprivation is the subject of hundreds of animal studies (Coleman and Riesin, 1968) although it could be argued that it is quite difficult to extrapolate the results from animals to human. Nevertheless, others counter argue that this is only done when it would be unethical to manipulate human lives due to practical and ethical reasons and even though caution is necessary in generalizing results from animals to people, similarities between species sometimes allow this to be done.

Besides, case studies of humans e. g. Genie Curtiss also emphasize the view that social deprivation and neglect does in fact influence later development who suffered from extreme privation since birth and even though she did later learn some language it was not deemed as ‘normal’ and so she never caught up developmentally. (Curtiss, 1977). Albeit, it was very detailed on the other hand critics have argued that it was only a case study and so cannot be generalised to the wider population.

However, wider support and brain research have strengthened this study by using a triangulation of methods, thus making it more valid and less prone to doubt. Through these cases many policies were also implicated resulting in far-reaching changes for example through Bowlby’s maternal deprivation hypothesis practices were derived to avoid the unnecessary separation of children from their parents for example parents being encouraged to remain with their children in hospital and the provision of facilities for them to stay overnight (NCT policy).

Likewise, other policies such as the Green paper: every child Matters (HM treasury, 2003) was published in response to the death of Victoria Climbie whose plight was ignored by 12 different professionals. In response the Green paper with its strong focus on better support for parenting and families starts with five overall aims for all children including being healthy (NHS reforms) and not being prevented by economic disadvantage from achieving their full potential (Dfes 2002).

Therefore, it can be insinuated that the political factor is also dominant in the physical and emotional development of babies in the first year of life. In spite of this it is important to consider the continuous change in child culture particularly in the 21st century. Yet, this has also had many positive implications for example the newly emerging idea of babies as the ‘nation’s future’ led to a marked change in the level of influence the government was now prepared to try to exert upon families thereby displaying a significant reduction in the number of infant mortality rates (Dwork, 1987).

Moreover, the emergence and notion of a child-centred society set new laws including family allowances in 1945 for children in low income households as well as the reform of a national health service to create ‘comprehensive health and rehabilitation services for the prevention and cure of disease’ (1948). However, differences in broader culture means that not all countries have similar policies and practices particularly in collectivist cultures where children are seen as an economic liability (Greenfield, 1995).

Nonetheless, todays interconnected society means that many agencies are now working together with a multi-agency approach based on an international level This reinforces the view that ecology, the environment and nurture shape the development of babies in their first year of life. in the same way empiricists have insisted that at birth the mind is a blank slate a ‘tabula rasa’ and that all knowledge is created by experience (Locke, 1704). Conversely, within developmental psychology with the growth of new technology there is now a growing emphasis on ‘inborn biases’ or ‘constraints’ on development.

So in essence, the baby is programmed with certain’ operating principles’ that govern the way they listen to and try to make sense out of the flow of sounds coming at them ( Slobin, 1985b). This is another reason why very young babies already seem to understand that objects will move downwards unless it encounters an obstacle (Spelke, 1991). Notwithstanding, current theorists do not propose that these built-in response patterns are the whole factors; rather they are the starting point.

What then develops is a result of experience filtered through these initial biases; however those biases do constrain the developmental pathways that are possible (Campbell and Bickhard, 1992). Likewise, the interactive approach to an infant’s development in the first year also states that Taking all the above mentioned into account this essay is lead to the conclusion that each factor is parallel and relative to one another and that the balance of biology and social expectations is different in different areas of an infant’s development.

Moreover, it is inevitable that both aspects of nature and nurture work in a collaborative manner alongside an organic system that operates together which is why even in those areas of development that appear to be the most clearly biologically determined can only occur if the child is growing in an environment that falls within the range of sufficient environments. After all, Albert Einstein did claim that ‘all that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual’ (1950).