What is the Role of Environment in Child Development?

6 Important Environmental Factors That Influence Early Childhood Development

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Rashmi Prakash (Psychologist/Psychotherapist)
View more Psychologist/Psychotherapist Our Panel of Experts

A child’s development is intricately shaped by a myriad of factors, intricately interwoven with the delicate dance of nature and nurture. Unveiling the layers of these influences enables parents to adeptly navigate their child’s needs. The child’s growth is profoundly affected by the environment they are immersed in—the attention and affection bestowed by parents, and the daily acceptance within the familial framework. Moreover, the cumulative impact of the child’s overall diet emerges as a pivotal influence on their life trajectory. Delving deeper into this discourse unravels insights into the paramount role of the environment in child development, offering a roadmap for parents to provide optimal support.

Areas of Child Development

Child development is a dynamic and multifaceted process encompassing various domains that shape a child’s growth. Understanding these areas is crucial for parents and caregivers to provide holistic support. We’ll now explore five key domains that play pivotal roles in a child’s overall well-being and progress.

1. Intellectual Development

Intellectual development refers to a child’s cognitive growth, encompassing aspects such as problem-solving, memory, language acquisition, and critical thinking. Stimulating activities, educational games, and exposure to diverse experiences contribute to robust cognitive development.

2. Physical Development

Physical development involves the enhancement of gross and fine motor skills, coordination, and overall physical fitness. Adequate nutrition, regular exercise, and a safe environment foster optimal physical growth, ensuring a child’s well-being.

3. Emotional Development

Emotional development pertains to a child’s ability to form relationships, understand emotions, and regulate their own feelings. Positive interactions, emotional support, and opportunities for social engagement contribute to healthy social-emotional development.

4. Social Development

Social development is crucial for effective communication and expression. Reading, storytelling, and encouraging verbal interactions aid in language acquisition. Providing a rich linguistic environment fosters vocabulary expansion and language fluency.

5. Moral Development

Moral development encompasses a child’s evolving identity, self-esteem, and social awareness. Nurturing a positive self-image, fostering a sense of belonging, and encouraging autonomy contribute to robust psychosocial development.

Understanding and actively supporting these five areas of child development lay the foundation for a well-rounded and thriving individual.

What Role Does a Child’s Environment Play in Their Development?

A child’s environment plays a pivotal role in their development, influencing various aspects of their growth. The environment includes physical surroundings, family dynamics, socio-economic conditions, and cultural influences. A supportive and stimulating environment fosters cognitive, emotional, and social development. Conversely, adverse conditions may hinder growth, highlighting the significance of creating a positive, nurturing space for optimal child development.

Environmental Factors Affecting Child Development

Some of the factors that affect child development are (1):

1. Family and Bonding

One of the most important influencing factors on your child’s development is his/her family. Irrespective of who is your child’s primary caregiver – you and your spouse, older siblings, or relatives – the bonding provided within a family home helps nurture and protect your child physically and emotionally. Parents who spend quality time with their children create a secure bond with their children and hence the child grows with secure attachment and confidence (2). The time you invest in nurturing your child will show in his/her positive development and growth. There are several things you can do to bond better with your child. You can make it a point to read to him regularly, thus establishing a routine and helping both of you bond with each other. Playing with your child is important as well, both in establishing a close relationship as well as in helping him develop their motor skills. You can also simply talk to your child, be it about your day or theirs, showing them that his/her inputs and opinions are valuable to you.

In contrast, children who are abused or neglected by their families suffer in terms of their mental and emotional well-being. These things include corporal punishment and verbal insults, and indifference. Leaving a child to watch TV the whole day without opportunities for genuine human interaction will prevent him from getting the required experience required to develop and prevent early speech development in children.

Finally, it is important to know that maintaining a good relationship with your child is important but not enough. The entire family needs to be cohesive and protective of each other (3). For instance, children raised by parents who argue or fight consistently grow up having problems building friendships and relationships. Also, caring for all your children equally and paying them the same amount of attention will make them develop a sense of fairness and camaraderie.

2. Physical Environment

The effect of the environment on child development cannot be understated, and this includes the physical surroundings they are raised in. If your living environment is cramped, noisy and filled with aggression, your child’s personality can be affected. If you have too many people living at home and if the attention towards him is divided, he may seek out alternative forms of attention which can lead to an emotional distance between him/her and you. Similarly, unpleasant surroundings often cause children to block out or bury negativity, making them more introverted.

School is an important part of a child’s life considering how much time he spends there every day. As a parent, it is your responsibility to identify which school is most suited to your child’s needs. Further, keeping yourself updated with your child’s school activities, meeting his teachers regularly and interacting with his peers and their parents is the mark of a good, concerned parent.

You can also enrol your child in enrichment courses like martial arts programmes, meditation, music classes, and so on, depending on your budget. Many community-specific organisations offer these programmes at affordable rates. This is even more important in today’s time owing to the dependence on technology and the internet.

3. Financial Situation

It’s not a surprise that money is a deciding factor when it comes to living comfortably. It has been well established that the privilege of wealth is real and that it has a greater impact on childhood development than education. For instance, rich parents can afford to spend more time with their children and poorer parents are too caught up in making ends meet to have the privilege of quality time. Wealth also helps secure better academic training, opportunities for travel, extra classes, and so on (4).

Financial planning

It’s easy to forget that money is not sufficient to provide for a child; you have to be deeply involved in his life. You can start by explaining to your child how money and budgets work in a way he can understand. Tell your child that he will always be taken care of, even if things are rough.

Children can thrive in a less well-to-do family as long as they are loved and wanted. Remember that children are more influenced by the quality of time you spend with them and not the quantity. Your child may not remember how much money you spent on his education, but he will remember if you turned up to his annual school functions or supported him when he won a prize or celebrated when he came first in class. You don’t have to do much to show your child you care; simply sharing a meal with him every night is enough for your little one to feel secure and happy.

4. Health and Nutrition

Nutrition is crucial for the physical and mental growth of a child. A balanced diet is also required by pregnant women as malnutrition can lead to problems like low birth weight, miscarriages, stillbirths, slowed development, and so on. In children, habits like unhealthy or excessive eating can lead to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, stunted growth, lethargy, and a host of other complications.

Infants thrive on breast milk – the ideal food consisting of carbs, fats, proteins, minerals, vitamins, antibodies, and everything else a growing newborn needs. Breastfed babies are less likely to become obese, have low levels of cholesterol, and improved cognition. After the first six months, you can complement your child’s diet with solid foods. Ensure that your child is getting micronutrients such as vitamin A, iodine, and iron, as the lack of these can cause serious problems like vision defects, goitre, cretinism, anaemia, and so on. These problems have been linked to reduced motor skills and social development of toddlers and young children.

5. Learning

In addition to learning at school, make sure that your home environment also stimulates your child’s mental development. This includes cognitive, linguistic, emotional, and motor skills. The best environment for this is a calm and loving home that allows your child to focus on improving his abilities. The absence of such a stimulating environment can have a negative impact on your child’s language and speech development. Not having a positive environment for learning can cause anxiety, absence of stimulation, not wanting to stay in one place for too long, and so on.

You should make an effort to create opportunities for your child to explore his interests, especially at home. Instil a sense of curiosity in your child, encourage him to question everything and teach him to find solutions by himself.

Some important ways you can create a positive atmosphere for your child are:

  1. Use positive words of affirmation.
  2. Go for critique instead of criticism.
  3. Always apologise for your mistakes, and allow your child to do the same.
  4. Solve the problem at hand immediately, and don’t let it fester.
  5. Show affection and warmth.
  6. Limit electronics to at least an hour each day and spend quality time.
  7. Practice what you preach, and your child will follow.

6. Social Media and Television

In the realm of virtual platforms encompassing social media and television, an escalation in screen time is becoming increasingly common. Children, akin to absorbent sponges, look up to their parents as early-life role models. It is imperative to avoid conveying the message that smartphones or laptops hold superiority over the offline world. To employ these media forms constructively, limit their use to recommended periods, ensuring the content aligns with educational and age-appropriate standards during children’s screen time if complete avoidance is not feasible. A related survey conducted on US adults divulges diverse parental strategies for digital discipline. Further insights are presented in the accompanying graph.

Social media and television

Source: Pew Research Center.org


1. At What Age Do Environmental Factors Have an Impact on a Child’s Development?

Environmental factors can influence a child’s development from infancy. The early years, particularly the first three, are crucial as the brain undergoes rapid growth and development. However, environmental factors continue to shape a child’s development throughout their formative years.

2. What Is the Impact of Growing Up in an Unstable Home Environment on a Child’s Development?

Growing up in an unstable home environment can have profound and lasting effects on a child’s development. It may lead to emotional, behavioral, and academic challenges, impacting their overall well-being. The instability can manifest in issues like anxiety, low self-esteem, and difficulty forming secure relationships.

3. How Can a Child’s Mental Health be Influenced by Exposure to Violence?

Exposure to violence can significantly impact a child’s mental health. It may lead to trauma, anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues. Children exposed to violence may also exhibit difficulties in forming healthy relationships and may struggle with emotional regulation.

4. How Do Parenting Styles Impact a Child’s Social and Cognitive Development?

Parenting styles play a crucial role in shaping a child’s social and cognitive development. Authoritative parenting, characterized by warmth and reasonable control, tends to foster positive outcomes. Authoritarian or permissive styles may lead to challenges, affecting a child’s ability to form relationships, regulate emotions, and perform academically.

As a parent, you must expose your child to the right kind of environment as that will have a direct impact on his behaviour, learning, and personality. There is no manual of parenting which can tell you about the perfect set of opportunities you can provide for your child, but you must try as much as possible to be there for him/her. The key thing to remember is to keep your home environment peaceful and loving, bond with your children, and provide them with the love, affection, attention and acceptance that they need to grow and thrive.


1. Influences on Children’s Health (Children’s Health, The Nation’s Wealth); National Library of Medicine; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92200/

2. Felfe. C, Hsin. A; Maternal work conditions and child development (Economics of Education Review); National Library of Medicine; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5026244/; December 2012

3. Goldberg. J, Carlson. M; Parents’ Relationship Quality and Children’s Behavior in Stable Married and Cohabiting Families (Journal of Marriage and Family); National Library of Medicine; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4128411/; July 2014

4. Environmental factors that contribute to child vulnerability; OECD iLibrary; https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/6a006a25-en/index.html?itemId=/content/component/6a006a25-en

5. A positive home environment is the foundation for healthy brain development; Data Book 2013: The state of children in Memphis and Shelby County; The Urban Child Institute; http://www.urbanchildinstitute.org/resources/publications/data-book-2013/family-home

6. Roughly eight in ten or more parents limit when and how long their child can use screens or digitally ‘ground’ their child; Parenting Children in the Age of Screens; Pew Research Center; https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/07/28/parenting-children-in-the-age-of-screens/pi_2020-07-28_kids-and-screens_00-06/; July 2020

7. Early childhood nutrition; UNICEF; https://www.unicef.org/nutrition/early-childhood-nutrition

Also Read:

Types of Play for Child Development
Child Growth and Development Stages
Role of the Family in a Child’s Development
Importance of Play in Your Child’s Development

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