There is a hot debate embroiling researchers and experts from across a variety of fields: the debate over the importance of our early experiences. Just how much do early experiences play a role in determining how some people go on to illustrious success while others languish? How some people seem to defy all odds and excel, while others, despite one opportunity and benefit after another, never seem to get off the starting block?

What I have learned as a human behavior expert and child development specialist, is that our interactions with our parents form the crucible for our growth. Through these interactions, we learn what is good and bad, right and wrong, who we are and who we are to be.

Parents are the true gene therapists

Although your genes lay out a blueprint for your potential development, they do not determine the way in which you will grow. Instead, it is the environment your parents create that instructs and directs your genes by enhancing some and turning off others. In other words, parents are the true gene therapists.

Now, as a parent yourself, the baton has passed to you. And who your baby will be and how he will grow subsequently is up to you. After all, in these critical first few years of life, your baby isn’t just building language and communication skills – he’s building his very personality. This means that your choices­ – what you say (and don’t say), what you do (and don’t do) – strongly influence who your child becomes. You are a key co-author in the book of his life.

This is a heavy responsibility that can cast fear into the hearts of even the most confident of parents. So when people learn of my background, I tend to hear the same three questions again and again:

  1. What can I possibly do as a parent to influence my child’s I.Q.?

  2. How can I raise an emotionally well-adjusted child?

  3. What influence can I possibly have on my child’s moral growth?

My answer always begins the same way: parents have the power. As mother or father, the ultimate responsibility for the trajectory your child takes in life is yours. But the good news is, you have everything you need to give your baby what he needs.

Create a simple, stimulating environment

Contrary to what you’ve been told, your child doesn’t necessarily need special teachers, lessons, or flashcards. But what he does need is a supporting, stimulating environment: objects for manipulation and observation (pots, pans, balls, and Baroque music, to name a few) and, above all, specific bonding experiences with you, his parent.

Why are these important? Because an environment that is deliberately filled with warmth and stimulation fosters the neural connections in his brain responsible for thought, emotion, and behavior.

Meeting your child’s needs, soothing him with your voice and your touch, reading a book, cuddling, or any activity that involves nurturing, will do much to enhance your baby’s emotional well-being, temperament, personality, and ability to cope with stress, and whether he reaches his overall potential.

One case study: “Sammy”

Consider the case of a boy I’ll call Sammy, younger brother to Anna and son of Maria and Leo, a successful musician. Like many other kids, Anna started piano lessons at age 7, taking them from her dad, while Sammy looked on. Sammy couldn’t wait to start lessons, so Leo started teaching 3-year-old Sammy too. Leo was pleased to see how quickly Sammy caught on.

Leo went to great lengths to make the piano lessons fun. But he also had high standards for his children, making sure they practiced daily and also learned to play correctly, with the right fingers on the right keys and with the right tempo, among other things. The kids also learned composition, music theory, and other instruments, as their abilities allowed.

What was the secret to Sammy’s success? Surely he had a natural aptitude for music. But that was not the only ingredient, by far. His father’s attention and careful tutelage also played a critical role. That is what made “Sammy” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as we all know him.

Nature AND Nurture

Mozart’s story (along with the stories of many other masterminds and miscreants alike) demonstrates the answer to the age-old nature-versus-nurture debate: we are all the products of both our genes and our environments. So, even as you gaze at your sleepy newborns placid face, know that inside, his brain is constantly developing, influenced almost equally by both the genetic codes he received from you and your partner as well as by the experiences you provide him, which affect the expression of those genes.

Although there is nothing you can do at this point about the genes your baby has inherited, there is much you can do to provide the nurturing he needs and an environment that fosters his growth. When you use your parental power to do so, you can help your child become the best that he can uniquely be. But to do that, first you have to understand how your baby’s brain develops.

In my next blog post, we’ll explore how your baby’s brain is hardwired to learn.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.