The Glass Ceiling by Noreen Heffernan


How much of how our children behave is nature and how much is nurture? I am not a geneticist. I am basing this strictly off of being a parent to a 5 year old and a 3 year old, who are extremely different. Is the plot of their story already written in utero? Is my 5 year old destined to love music and art and my 3 year destined to be a gymnast? Maybe?! There is something ingrained in our children, things that we cannot change nor should we want to. True? My 5 year old came home from school and said that her favorite special activity is music. This completely makes sense to me. Based on what she has loved to do since birth, listen to music, dance around the living room, and sing songs. It is in her genes. I don’t want to change those things about her. They make her who she is and that is a beautiful thing.

But what about how they behave? How much of an influence do we have on them and how much can be taught? For example, my 5 year old is a little bit shy. She doesn’t love big groups or big parties. She gets a bit over stimulated. For a long time, she took a while to warm up to people, even family. But, we worked on it, every single day. We talked to her about being friendly and making friends. We gave examples on how to make friends and be warm to others. We showed her how to be friendly by example. We consistently reminded her to say hi to her friends, open up, talk, and laugh. She may be shy by nature, but it was the nurture that is helping her shine. Today, she isn’t scared to go up to people and say hi. She is making new friends in Kindergarten and although she still likes to play by herself, she is letting people in little by little. I believe she has broken through her own glass ceiling.

We can’t let who we are be an excuse for what we can be. I don’t think we need to make excuses for ourselves. “Well, I’m shy so I can’t…..” With hard work and growth, shy can become open.

Our habits become us. And sometimes when we are in bad habits, it starts to take over our personality. The same can be said about good habits. They become us. For my daughter, a habit of hanging out alone has been replaced by making an effort to play with others. And although she is who she is, I believe she is becoming a better version of herself. There is something to be said about the lessons that our children learn at home, about feedback and reinforcement. There is something to be said about consistency.

Can it be the same with discipline?

Studies suggest that many temperamental and behavioral tendencies are ultimately 30 to 50 percent genetic. So the answer is yes. We can help shape behavior. We can’t say my daughter throws tantrums and there is nothing I can do about it. I believe healthy discipline can change it. My daughter started to throw a tantrum yesterday after dance class because she wanted to go to the playground. I completely understood her frustration. I know she wanted to go, but I gave her reasons why we couldn’t. She continued to start to cry and raise her voice. You know, at 5, I’m thinking, “no, this is not appropriate.” It just isn’t. When we got in the car, I said to her, “I understand why you are upset and you are allowed to be upset. But, the way you acted after dance is not appropriate… so when we get home there will be consequences for those actions.” She wasn’t allowed to watch TV for the rest of the night. We came home, did homework, ate dinner, and then went to bed. She was a doll for the rest of the night. I am not sure if this is the right thing to do or not. But, I do believe that they should learn that there are always consequences when you act inappropriately in school, at home, or even after dance class, whenever. She isn’t big to throw tantrums, but I do think that they can show their frustrations in other ways at this age. Maybe I’m wrong? I don’t know. I just try to do what feels right. And the truth is, I have no clue. I’m ok with that, because she is a really good little girl.

Genes may represent a range of possibility. It defines how we look and what we love to do deep in our hearts. But, they do not define everything about us. We still have a lot of say in our children’s lives. Nature as genes gives us a template, a lined one and we write the words on it. Our job as parents is to color our children’s lives, to make them see farther than we could, to make them strive harder than we did, to make them fulfill their own dreams and desires all the while by being in touch with their own humanity. Is there a glass ceiling? Only if we choose to have it. We have the ability to help them become anything they want to become, by teaching them to break through their own glass ceilings, the barriers that hinder them from rising higher. And they will go high. They will rise up and reach for the stars.

Our nature doesn’t define us. Our ability to be our best selves, does.

~Noreen Heffernan,Writer, MA in Public and Corporate Communications, Certified in PR Writer, Growing Ladies

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