It’s the Little Things! Understanding Childhood Personality Development

June 8, 2020

As adults, we hopefully have personality dialed in.  

While slightly shy, obsessive, and anxious, I’m also a quick learner, good communicator, and kind. My husband is an extrovert, wicked smart, even keeled, yet stumbles over the organization that keeps me highly productive.

This combination of individual traits is what makes our personalities unique. 

As parents, we have the ability to observe our child’s personality develop. Yet, what influence do we have on the person our child will be? How influential is environment? What about experiences and genes? 

Psychiatry and science help clear a few things up!  

There are three components that create unique personalities: temperament, environment, and character. 

The first two components — temperament and environment — you may recognize as “nature versus nurture.” 

Your child is born with a specific temperament (or nature) — a “set of [genetically determined] traits that makes each of us unique.” Temperament doesn’t hide until your toddler discovers words. Parents begin to notice temperament patterns as early as six months old

Next up, there are environmental factors (or nurture) that create adaptive patterns.

Then there’s character.

Most of us relate character to morality, but it’s actually based around a “set of emotional, cognitive, and behavioral patterns learned from experience.” Your child’s experiences generally determine how they think, feel, and behave, which then forms their moral center.

This psychological breakdown tells us that even though our child may be born with a unique temperament, the parent still has a role in shaping personality. 

This is both awesome and completely terrifying. 

Let’s waylay the terror with knowledge! There are 5 core traits that can help a parent guide their child. Identifying these traits in your kiddo can help you communicate and relate in a more natural and healthy way! 

  1. Conscientiousness: punctual, high responsible, goal oriented, little supervision necessary.
  2. Agreeableness: socializes positively, pleasant, helps others, cooperates well in groups, open with affection.
  3. Openness to Experience: creative, flexible, curious, adventurous, enjoys variety, craves novelty. 
  4. Neuroticism: experiences negative emotions regularly, responds poorly to stress, easily threatened, difficult. 
  5. Extroversion: energized by other people. 

Still overwhelmed? Let’s indulge a simpler viewpoint. 

Everything your child sees, hears, touches, smells, and tastes stimulates their brain, creates connections, and sets the foundation for their genetic temperament to form personality. 

Lucky for us, this foundation of personality relies on those little sensory experiences that come naturally to daily life! As a parent, you can take cues from your child’s temperament and alter the way you interact to help develop more robust and healthy personality traits.  

For instance, a child that shows anxiety tendencies — overly fussy in those first 3 to 4 weeks — may benefit from extra attention on security and consolation with an emphasis on novel experiences in the toddler years. A child that shows lackadaisical qualities — also called the second sibling syndrome — may reorient with more one-on-one time with the parent.

In the end, just remember, don’t sweat it! 

All you really need is lots of love, engagement, and an open mind.