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Can we make all our kids social butterflies?

Posted on December 11, 2012 at 10:00 AM

At a recent cocktail party for parents of my 6 year old twins, a Dad of two sons, explained how different his two sons are. He said the environment has remained the same when the younger son was born and both boys live with both parents and nothing has changed in their approach to parenting with the second son, but he said they are as different as light and day. So, I asked him, how does he explain the differences and he said 'Nature and Nurture'. I also shared with him that I am trying to figure out if I can make one of my sons more sociable within his peer group and about the differences in social skills between my own identical twins who have had the same environment and have not had any differences in their upbringing to date.

Is a child's development influenced primarily by genetics and biological predisposition? Or, could the majority of influence be found in the child's environment? This nature/nurture question is possibly one of the oldest theories debated in psychology (Bee, 2004). Today, it is commonly accepted that most aspects of a child's development are a product of the interaction of both nurture and nature (Bee). Both sides of the nature/nurture argument present compelling evidence of how each factor impacts development. It is no longer a question of whether it is nature or nurture, which influence development, but more importantly in what ways, and to what extent.

I asked some parents what their thoughts were on one particular aspect of a the twins personality - social skills. Are they both equally sociable and if they think genetics has more influence on social skills or whether we can help them increase their social skills. Here are some of the answers I received :

Dede Daquilante, Mom to twins + 1, Tampa, Florida

"My twins (boy/girl) ARE in the same kindergarten class. They are both very social children and have no problem making friends with others on their own.....however, they are each others "best friend" and they do tend to be friends with the same kids. Although they each have their "best friend" of the same sex. They both prefer to just have one bestie because they always gravitate to each other as well. Almost as if their is not enough time for more OR... a bit of jealousy. Especially if the bestie is playing with someone else, choice two is the twin. This becomes a problem because it doesn't always happen at the same time and someone usually gets their feelings hurt because (they ignore the other at that moment) and yet I hear about it immediately when I pick them up, even if it only happened for a minute or so. Quite the impact others have on each other!!!! 

Next year I do plan to separate them in first grade classrooms. Mainly because they have completely different learning styles and personalities. I will admit, I selfishly would love to keep them together for convience sake, but I know that I really need to give them this opportunity to find there way on their own. Because my 3 are so close in age, I forsee them always having the same group of friends and being very close thoughout their school years. My son is probably the most dependent on the girls for social situations and he tends to be the "funny guy" and spook/bother the girls. This always makes him popular with the other boys because they are not as comfortable "playing" with the girls, but for my son its easy."

Hayley Cartridge, Mom to 4, UK

"Strange answer but both it depends on the mood they are in. One day they are both friends with (a) the next only one likes (a) and they prefer to play with (b) if you know what I mean:)  I do think with ID twins other children find it hard, only today when I went to pick them up another child (who's in the same class) said theirs the other one! They didn't know who was who, Isabel was with me and she was talking about Fern who was getting her coat and one had trousers on the other a skirt. So I do think sometimes its easier for others to play with both that way they don't get their names wrong.

In classroom they are ok in reception they did 9/10 tasks together, Isabel didn't like it if Fern got called to do something and she would sit or stand next to her thus joinging ferns gp, but if Isabel got called Fern wasn't too bothered, so one has more confidence than the other"

Anthea Barton, Mom to identical twins + 1, UK

Aneira & Rowan have the same and separate friends. They're one of the most mature in the class and have no problems at all socialising, learning etc. they are very very sharp and have learnt quickly a hierarchy of befriending ... Adults first, older kids then class mates;)Friendships change as they move through the school. Tarran only really cemented her core group of friends in the school year 6-7 years. Aneira & Rowan are still working their core friends out. Also the school deliberately mixes the classes up each year so the children make new friends and learn to work with others/handle change.

Carla Greeb, Mom of fraternal twins, New York

"They share friends, but they have their own too!!!

I also looked back into my own family to see how influencial the home environment has been, especially in my father's family. My father was one of five brothers in one happy family, raised by two happy, successful parents and ONE Nanny:) Yet, I remember being told by my own father 'five fingers in one hand are all different':) My own father is no more, so I reached out to one of his brothers and asked for his opinion.

Preethi Perera is also the Seceretary General for UNESCO and based on his life experience to date and having brought up a daughter himself, this is what he had to say : 

First, I asked him about his twin brothers and their social skills :

"Both S (Srian) & J(Janaka) Twins were a strange mix,sometimes together and sometimes apart in their activities.Together with friends, sports and mischief, with the S being older by 10 minuites, usually taking the initiatives.Studies and interests were different.

Being of same age they were in the same class at a very young age,but separated in class as they grew older.They had common friends in school and often did things together,including sports and partying.Of course,as they got old,they each went their separate ways,with family,friends and professions and occupations. However,no doubt,the family bonds were always there and continued to the very end.

Srian was always the more talkative,Janaka was less,when young. I was quiet then and even now, where talking out is concerned. But,we all had our own inner strengths.

Difficult to change what one is. But,influence,you can. I totally agree that social skills are important even from a vey young age. But,it can come by way of different means.

In my view,what is most important in the early stages and even right throughout life, are the following;

1.Learning to learn

2.Learning to do

3.Learning to be(to harness ones inner potential)

4.Learning to live together.(Most important,to be cohesive in society,respecting the other and the environment you live in).More important than a PHD.

Then comes the transferable skills,such as;

Ability to communicate well(Including in other languages,where possible,as per aptitudes),be positively critical,analytical,take initiative,be able to think and decide and take action as appropriate,be entrepreneurial.

The transferable skills can gradually emerge,as you move on to be in the age group of 14-16,which will help enhance life skills,beyond the academic aspects.

My thinking is that at this stage and age,they should concentrate on the first 4 straits,learning to learn,learning to do,learning to be and learning to live together with others and respecting the environment that surrounds you.Above all,to be a positive thinker,which is the first characteristic of a peaceful person.Sports and games will also help a great deal at a young age. It will help in being more sociable and to act less silly.

Below is a detailed explanation of the nature versus nurture debate, which can be found at  for thos who would like a detailed explanation. There seems to be general consensus that parents can to some extent influence social skills of a growing child, maybe not to be able to turn every child into a totally confident social butterfly, but through leading by example and increasing the confidence levels of a child, it will most certainly help the child become more socially confident. 

The Impact of Nature on Development

Nature, which is also known as heredity, is the genetic code you are born with. It is passed on to you from your parents. Some examples of nature or heredity could be your height, behavior, and IQ just to name a few.


The issue of nature having a great impact on a child's development can be illustrated in the studies of twins. Flanagan (2002) explored the Minnesota study in which a set of twins was raised separately. In one case, a set of identical twins was raised apart, known as the Jim twins. They did not meet until they were almost forty and had many similarities even though they were raised apart. There was no real explanation for all their similarities except that nature must play a crucial role in development. "The Minnesota twin study concluded that on multiple measures of personality and temperament, occupational and leisure-time interests and social attitudes, mono-zygotic twins reared apart are about as similar as are mono-zygotic twins reared together" (Flanagan). This is a prime example that nature plays a significant role in our development.


Another example of nature is the study of adopted babies. Families with adopted children share the same environment, but not the same genetic code (Flanagan, 2002).


The Texas Adoption Project found "little similarity between adopted children and their siblings, and greater similarity between adopted children and their biological parents" (Flanagan). This example also shows how important the role of nature plays on a child's development.


Knowing that nature plays a role in a child's development, educators can use this to determine possible disabilities. For example, if two parents have a reading disability, it is more likely that their child may develop a reading disability as well. It gives teachers a heads up on what to look out for. This can help educators be proactive and intervene at earlier ages.


The Impact of Nurture on Development


The influence of a person's environment on their behavior is a very commonly accepted factor. The question is how much can the environment affect the behavior and abilities of a person. Some basic factors such as nutrition can be shown to have an important influence on the abilities of a person. It has also been demonstrated that fears, through the experiences of children, can be learned. Most importantly, some behaviors, if not learned from the environment, will never develop. Environment plays a significant role in development as humans.


When considering a person's environment in influencing ability, nutrition plays an important example. In one study, a group of children were given vitamin and mineral supplements for eight months. They were given intelligence tests before and after the eight-month treatment. The result was improvements in scores as compared to another group whom we not given vitamin and mineral supplements ("Nature vs. Nurture", 2001). The results suggest that environment plays a role in the intellectual ability of people. It is not an illogical leap to understand this will probably extend to physical abilities as well.


Another example of environmental influences in the behavior of people comes from a study done to an infant of 11 months. The infant was subjected to a terrible noise whenever he attempted to touch a white rat in the room with him. The child later displayed fear whenever he came in contact with anything white or furry ("Nature vs. Nurture", 2001).


A last example of environmental influences in behavior comes from France in 1799. A boy of 12 or 13 was found running with wolves. When he was discovered he was brought back into society. He never developed as a normal human and had tremendous difficulties in society ("Nature vs. Nurture", 2001). This suggests that much of what we consider human behavior is socially learned.


While no one would suggest that nurture is the only factor that needs to be considered in discussing behavior, it is definitely a significant factor in how we behave as humans. By ignoring the environment, we would miss a large part of what shapes and guides us in life.


In conclusion, both sides of the nature/nurture debate present evidence which supports its impact on development. Studies have shown that heredity is a major factor in developmental similarities among twins raised separately (Flanagan 2002). Studies have also shown that nutrition plays a significant role in cognitive development ("Nature vs. Nurture", 2001). Most experts agree that most aspects of a child's development are a product of the interaction of both nurture and nature (Bee, 2004). Interestingly, in recent years, new technology has enabled scientists to gain a deeper understanding of the genetic component of development, increasing interest on this side of the debate (Bee). Although no longer an "all or nothing" issue, the extent to which nature and nurture affect development will likely be debated for years to come."

 What do YOU think? Comments welcome:)


Categories: Social skills, Nature versus Nurture, Individuality

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