I often find myself thinking, ‘Wow, that child has such a great personality!’ Do those thoughts ever cross your mind? If so, have you ever wondered how we can develop our child’s personality? Is it something that our children are just born with, or is it something that the adults in their lives help to shape? For this week’s episode of a Child’s Life we are going to discuss developing a child’s personality.
There are many different theories on personality, but most agree that personality is the consistent combination of behaviors, ideas, thoughts, beliefs, reactions, expressions and emotions that one exhibits and develops as a result of both nature and nurture.
The process of personality formation begins as soon as a child is born. Their environment helps to shape their socialization and plays a large role in their personality development. Adults play an active role in how children develop. They communicate to children how they should behave, display pleasure or disapproval with the way they do behave, and reward, ignore or punish them accordingly. Children then interpret their experiences and select which of the many messages and examples they receive.
Each child’s personality is unique to them. Even among identical twins that share the same DNA it is clear to see that each one has their own unique personality. So how much of this personality are they born with and how much is developed over childhood? Although children display temperamental traits, by the time they reach 3 or 4 years old, what is exhibited is more because of their developed personalities than their temperamental traits. For example, at birth we cannot say that a child is honest or shows a desire to please, as these are personality traits that are developed as a child grows and depending on their environment and circumstances.
An important aspect of personality is self concept. Self concept is a topic we have discussed several times on a Child’s Life and its relation to self-esteem. Self concept is the way in which children come to perceive themselves in relation to other people. The self concept of a child provides the link between their personality and social development.
Self concept can change in a child, especially as they mature and are exposed to different influences. In the early stage they are learning a great deal about the roles they are expected to play, how to behave in accordance to social standards, how to control aggressive feelings, and how to respect the rights of others. These are sometimes very difficult lessons; children do not always care to comply with adult expectations. As they get older, children learn not only why it is important to comply to adult expectations and how to be ‘good’ but develop a more explicit sense of themselves, their abilities, and the ways in which they can use the rules and tools of society to their own advantage.
So while personality development will happen no matter what you do as a parent, how can you help it to flower and fully develop…and is there anything you should try to avoid? Parents play a pivotal role in how their child’s personality develops.
Start by setting a good example for your children. The values that you model and instill in your child will influence the type of person they become. Through the modeling that you do and with your influence and guidance, you can help to shape your child’s tendencies to be kind and sociable as well as confident and compassionate. Even a child who tends to be shy who is exposed to social situations and their parents enjoying socializing, will in their own time, come out of their shell. In the same way that modeling and encouraging positive behavior influences a child’s personality, so does negative behavior. Discourage tendencies to be mean, selfish, snobbish and cold. Remember that children are often influenced by the company they keep; your child’s friends may also be having an influence on their personality development. Therefore, spend time talking to them about qualities to look for in friends to help steer them in the right direction.
So how else can you help personality grow.
1. Accentuate the positive: each child has an internal dialogue that goes on in their head. Although you are not likely to know everything that is going on in your child’s head, try and find out as much as you can. How do they react when they don’t get a good grade on a test? Does their internal dialogue say, “Oh, that’s too bad. I thought I studied well. I better look this over and be sure to study more effectively next time.” Or is it more like ,“Man, I’m stupid! And imagine I wasted that time studying?” Teach your child how to do positive self talk to encourage themselves.
2. Teach self confidence: the way your children see themselves is influenced by a number of factors which we have mentioned already…self-image, self esteem, temperament, abilities to meet challenges, etc. As parents, you have an important effect as well. For example, if your child is a soccer player and he or she comes home and says, ‘I’ll never be a good soccer player,’ it’s important that you help them deal with this. Now, it is also important that you do not say to them, ‘Honey, don’t worry about that, you are the best soccer player on the field!’ You must be genuine and a better way to address this and to help build your child’s self confidence is to let them know that you are going to help them improve and become the best that they can be. Take the time to kick the ball around with your child every evening for 10 minutes. Work on a few drills, you would be surprised at what this little bit of time and attention can do for a child’s self esteem.
3. Remember that your child is unique. Avoid comparison to other children and to their siblings.
4. Encourage play in early childhood. This is key in helping their personality to blossom. Play helps children to develop physically, mentally and emotionally. It teaches children how to work in groups, how to settle conflicts; it helps them to develop their imagination, create, explore, make decisions, etc.
5. Avoid labels: Ideally, you want your child to be in an environment that will help your child’s personality to blossom. Avoid using labeling. When a child internalizes labels such as shy, bossy, rude, emotional etc. they may start to act this way, or believe this is who they in fact are, when it may just be an emotion that was being exhibited as a reaction to a specific event.
6. Nature and nurture. Remember that personality is as a result of both nature and nurture. Don’t assume that a child’s personality is solely because of their nature or how they have been nurtured; it is together that personalities are developed.