Personality in the making

Personality in the making
Your toddler’s temperament is present from birth, but her character and personality develop over time.

Your toddler’s temperament is present from birth, but her character and personality develop over time.

Character is usually defined by someone’s way of being and how they behave. “Character is forged from both a child’s temperament and her life experiences,” explains Ginette Dionne, a professor with Université Laval’s School of Psychology. “Temperament and character become closely linked very quickly making it difficult to separate what is inherited from what is acquired through experience and relationships with others.”

Take the case of Loïc. He’s only 10 months old, but already he’s a prankster. “He pretends to bite my nose because he knows that I’ll exaggerate my reaction to make him laugh,” says dad Jean-Sébastien. “He likes having fun, just like his mother and I.” For her part, 2-year-old Eugénie is as stubborn as her mom Valérie and her grandfather. “When she wants something, she tries to get it by any means possible,” says Valérie. Family trait or learned behaviour? It’s probably a bit of both!

The influence of environment

The environment in which your child grows up plays an important role in the development of her character and personality. Identical twins are a good example of this. They are born with a similar temperament since they share the same genetic baggage. Most often than not, they also grow up together. In theory, then, they should have the same character. Well, not necessarily. Each will have his or her own, because each of their life experiences will be different. “Even though parents aren’t always aware of it, they act differently with each of their children,” says Dionne. “And twins don’t always have the same friends or the same teachers. They don’t necessarily do the same activities, either. Simply put, each has different life experiences. It’s this variety of experiences that helps them gradually develop their own personalities.”

And it’s not just the family and immediate community who forge a child’s character and personality. Society plays a role as well. For example, sexual stereotypes can encourage girls and boys to behave according to the characteristics associated with their gender. It’s also been proven that stereotypes partly determine the attitude parents have towards their children. Everything your child sees, hears and experiences influences how her personality will develop.

Personality develops until early adulthood.

Finally, although not always easy, it’s better to avoid describing a child with negative characteristics. For example, avoid saying: “You’re annoying,” “You’re a liar” or “You’re difficult.” That’s like labelling your child and boxing her into a specific role. “The more she hears that she is like this or that, the more she’ll end up believing it,” says Catherine Ruth Solomon Scherzer. “If you say she’s annoying, then she’ll be annoying.”

Does birth order have an impact?

Contrary to what we often hear, a child’s birth order does not influence her personality much. The eldest in a family is not always responsible and organized. And the youngest is not always a charmer who dislikes responsibility! Birth order is certainly one of the aspects involved in the development of personality, but its influence is limited, according to a recent American study. Conducted among 377,000 youth, the study revealed that the eldest are slightly more serious, agreeable and assertive and less anxious than the other children in the family, but these differences are so small that they practically have no impact on a person’s life.

Naître et grandir

Source: Magazine Naître et grandir, November 2015
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review: Jean-Pascal Lemelin, professor with the Department of Psychoeducation at Université de Sherbrooke, and Dr. Bruno Maranda, medical geneticist at the Centre hospitalier universitaire de Sherbrooke