Nuturing Baby's Personality
By Carol HardingEvery baby is full of promise. As parents, we dream about the person this baby will become and what kind of life he or she will pursue and live. We also begin the lifelong journey of getting to know each other. Personality is "the totality of an individual's behavioral and emotional characteristics," (Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed.). How each personality develops depends on an ongoing interaction between individual genetic makeup and a parade of life experiences, beginning with the important context of family.
Starting in the late 1950s, a major research study observed the development of children's personalities between birth and adolescence. Conducted by a team of pediatric physicians led by Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess, this study reported, "children show distinct individuality in temperament in the first weeks of life, independently of their parents' handling or personality style." Thomas and Chess categorized the biologically based temperaments of the babies they observed as "easy, difficult, and slow to warm up."
Babies who had "easy" temperaments responded well to various kinds of child-rearing styles; while "difficult" babies had what the researchers called "handling problems" from the beginning - no matter what their parents did. "Slow to warm up" babies just seemed to take longer with various social situations. They had low activity levels, withdrew from new experiences, were slow to adjust to change, and often started out with negative moods.
In research today, child psychologist Jerome Kagan finds that "the child's own temperamental predispositions are the major determining factors in the kind of person he becomes later in life." Whether children are independent or timid, sociable or shy, easygoing or easily depressed, he says, depends primarily on their inborn traits. Kagan observes that parents are affected by their child's personality right from the beginning. Conversely, an infant's qualities can affect the kind of care he or she receives.
So, what is the role of parents in nurturing each child's personality?