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Factors Involved in Shaping a Child’s Personality

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 3019 words Published: 28th Mar 2018

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What factors are involved in shaping a child’s personality? Discuss in reference to concepts drawn from at least two theories of personality.

  • Ser Cher Meng


There is increasing evidence supporting the association of environmental factors, as well as genetic origins, with regards to factors involved in shaping a child’s personality. The initial phase of researchers focused on genetic factors such as temperament and the early year’s experiences that a child goes through, and how both of these factors interact with each other to construct personality. However, observations can be made to refute that in shaping a child’s personality, genetic origins are not the only factor, as evidence shows that environmental factors such as the family’s main culture, the order in which the child is given birth in, as well as the parent-child relationship quality, or simply parenting style, plays a part in the establishment of a healthy personality development. A better understanding of the interactions between genetic origins and the environment provided by parents or caregiver would allow the conclusion to be made that nature and nurture has to go hand in hand in shaping a child’s personality.

What factors are involved in shaping a child’s personality? Discuss in reference to concepts drawn from at least two theories of personality.

The term personality, popularised by Gordon Allport, was defined as the relative stable set of characteristics that creates an impact on an individual’s behaviour, and gives it consistency (Allport, 1961). This means that we, as individuals, have the capability to adapt in different situations, as well as a set of values we refer to make decisions. Psychologists are interested in what people are like, why they behave in a particular way, and how they became that way. Some personality theorists such as Sigmund Freud embrace the view that how we grow up to be is determined by nature, or simply genetics. Freud highlighted that factors involved in shaping a child’s personality is the psychosexual stages, or simply their early years’ experience. However, other personality theorists such as Alfred Adler adopted different views; he emphasized that how we became who we are is dependent on the environmental factors. Alfred Adler place emphasis on birth orders, where being first born and second born are significantly different in shaping a child’s personality. Other than just being in the order of birth which the child has no control over, the environment that parents create for their child will play a role in the creation of either a healthy, or unhealthy personality, depending on which is provided.

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Ormrod (2009) believes that children have distinctive temperaments since their birth. Some can be identified as cheerful and easily cared for, whereas others are demanding and difficult. Researchers identified numerous styles of temperament that develops even in childhood years and can be said to be fairly stable, and such differences in temperament are biologically based and posseses genetic origins (Bates & Pettit, 2007). As biological factors can determine an individual’s temperament, they are expressed in different ways as the person matures. As a child develops, they can be said to go through the psychological development, which occurs in a series of stages as pointed out by Freud. These are defined as psychosexual stages because each stage signifies the fixation of sexual drives or instincts on different areas of the body. As a child develops physically, specific areas of the body becomes significant as causes of potential frustration, pleasure, or both. This was supported by Caroll (2012), where she discussed that psychosexual energy, or libido, was termed as the driving force behind our behaviour. Psychoanalytic theory proposed that personality is established by five years of age; early age experiences play an important role in development of personality and continue to influence behaviour even later in life. Upton (2011) suggests that if these psychosexual stages are successfully completed, the individual would have a healthy personality. However, if concerns are not resolved at the appropriate stages, fixation can occur. A fixation, defined by Upton (2011), is a persistent focus on any of the psychosexual stages. If the conflict is not resolved, the child would remain “stuck” in that particular stage. For example, the anal stage is when an infant’s attention is focused on anal stimulations, which are usually associated with learning to control their own excretory functions. Freud conceived that children who experience conflicts in this set period of time, they may develop “anal” personality traits. This usually results in problems in orderliness, stubbornness, and a compulsion for control.

Temperament refers to behavioural style, and personality can be described in how and why an individual behaves in a particular manner. Freud discussed how an individual reacts to a situation is based on their prior experience, and the deployment of defence mechanisms seems to be prominent in explaining factors that affect a child’s personality. He explained that memories that are suppressed to the unconscious do not disappear, but instead continue to exert an influence on our behaviour. Schacter (2011) defined defence mechanisms as the coping mechanisms an individual uses to reduce anxiety, which are generated through threats from unacceptable impulses. Depending on the circumstances and how often the mechanisms are used, a healthy or unhealthy consequence may result in an individual’s personality. Talladini and Caudek (2010) proposed that early year’s experiences such as whether the child receives proper environment to grow, and whether the child is capable of being facilitated through the psychosexual stages of development is crucial in the development of a healthy defence mechanism. Negative experiences such as negligence or otherwise over-aggressive environments may overwhelm the child and as Freud mentioned, these negative experience would be suppressed to the unconscious. Similar occurrence of negative experiences would then trigger the defence mechanism, and some defence mechanisms that can be observed since early childhood, as Talladini and Caudek explained, was the usage of “denial” defence mechanism. Denial meant the individual refuses to recognize that painful truths exist in reality, and are normal in children who receive negative treatments. However, overuse of such mechanisms would indicate a personality that would be delusional, and the child would not be able to adjust to the crisis in future situations. Children who are not able to cope and adjust to situations due to the adverse effect of denial, would be seen making use of alcohol and drugs, as they do not believe they have a physical addiction and do not realize how their addiction affects others; as such, the denial allows them to continue their behaviour that supports the addiction and the vicious cycle continues.

Keogh (2003) argued that difference in genetics observed in temperament are only predispositions to understand why a child behave in a certain manner, and environmental conditions may argue that different children with the same predisposition may behave in opposite directions. Research suggests that the overall pattern of parental attitudes also has an effect on how an infant will grow up (Berger, 2000). Denissen, van Aken and Dubas (2009) backs up the notion that the attitudes of parent and parenting style play a role in shaping a child’s personality. A child’s cultural environment influences personality development more directly by encouraging certain kinds of behaviours, such as interaction with others (Mendoza-Denton & Mischel, 2007). For example, many children in China are raised to be shy, whereas many in Zambia and the United States are raised to smile and be outgoing (Huntsinger & Jose, 2006). Walker and Hoover-Dempsey (2006) explains that in mainstream Western culture, the factors that shape a child’s personality seems to be authoritative parenting, which synergizes both respect and affection for their children, however, with restrictions on the scope of the child’s behaviour. Authoritative parents provide warm and caring homes, hold high expectations and standards for performance, and explain acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. Furthermore, parents also put consistent efforts to enforce household rules, allow their children to take part in decision makings, and also provide opportunities for encouragement of children to be autonomous. The resultant would be that children tend to be more self-confident, happy and likeable. As such, children with such characteristics are capable of making friends easily and are able to demonstrate concern for the rights and needs of others. Children of authoritative parents are well adjusted to situations, in part, due to their behaviour fitting well with the values adopted by their culture. They listen respectfully to others, are able to follow rules, and are relatively independent and self-regulating. However, adopting the same parenting style regardless of the environment may not be the best method to shape a child’s personality. Other parenting styles could be more appropriate to specific cultures and environments. For instance, in authoritarian parenting, parents would expect their child to be compliant; they neither negotiate what they would expect of their child, nor would they provide reasons for their requests. In many Asian American and Hispanic families, higher demands for obedience are crafted through close, supportive relationships (Halgunseth, Ispa & Rudy, 2006).

As a child begins to learn new things in their surroundings and shape their own personality, parents serve as a proxy, as well as a facilitator of the child’s growth. Through the interaction between parent and child, personality, albeit healthy or unhealthy, can be shaped. Thus, parent child relationship may also play a role in shaping a child’s personality. One example given by Denissen, Aken and Dubas (2009) states that how agreeable a child would be is associated with the quality of care that the parents give to the child. Denissen, Aken and Dubas explains that if higher levels of warmth are given to the child, in this case lesser punishment and refusal, the child would be more likely to give in during conflict situations by either refraining from efforts to control other people’s behaviour, and are less likely to be rebelling against rules and regulations. Denissen, Aken and Dubas further explained that children may develop neurotic personality if less competent caregiving was provided. Neurosis arises from the parent-child relationship, and when this socially produced anxiety becomes evident, the child develops behaviour strategies in response to parental behaviour as a way of coping with the feelings of helplessness and insecurity. Becker and Becker (2008) emphasizes the importance of parent-child relationship, that it shapes the child’s capability to interact with their peers, provide their sense of security to explore the world, their resilience to stress, as well as the capability to balance their emotions. They stress that all children need the proper nurturing relationship so that the personality, or foundation of a child can be strong, and a healthy personality may emerge.

Aside from parenting style and parent-child relationships, Alfred Adler brought about the focus of birth order as factors involved in shaping a child’s personality. According to Engler (2013), it was advocated that firstborn children would be in a favourable position, as they can enjoy the full attention of the devoted new parents until the birth of a second child. This second child, however, would cause the firstborn child to suffer feelings of dethronement, because they no longer are the center of their parent’s attention. Engler mentioned that the oldest child may gradually become timid, and would be the most probable to suffer from neuroticism because of dethronement from the once pampered position. Second-born children often develop a competitive nature because they are sandwiched between older and younger siblings. They are eager for praise and compliment, and because of the feeling of being ignored or loved less than others, they seek attention and are thus easily influenced by their friends and surroundings. The resultant would be that second-born children have a tendency to develop low self-esteem as they may feel that they do not belong anywhere. Youngest children, according to Engler (2013), are often pampered more than the other siblings. This “pampering”, according to Engler, is one of the worst behaviours parents give to a child. “Pampering” can lead to the individual being dependent and selfish as well as irresponsible when the youngest develops. Youngest children may also become manipulative and have the urge to seek for control if their siblings or peers are overbearing. Only born children, like the youngest children are likely to be pampered. Maltby, Day and Macaskill (2010) clarifies that the only child in the family have a hard time when they do not get what they want in life, have great difficulty handling criticisms, and usually develops high need for approval, simply because they are always in the limelight of praise and compliments.


The parent’s facilitation through a child’s psychosexual stages of development is crucial in developing a child’s personality. Temperament in a child creates behavioural styles in which creates how a child would react in specific situations, and thus the creation of defence mechanisms, where they cope with anxiety in reality. Research findings suggest that heredity is essentially accountable for traits such as temperament, and expectations are a result of experiences that a person had in their childhood. For instance, children who are temperamentally energetic and adventuresome will pursue a variety of experiences as compared to those who are more reserved. Children who are naturally cheerful and outgoing will have more opportunities than shy children to pick up social skills and establish long term interpersonal relationships. However, a child’s personality is not purely determined by their biological temperament, or genetic origins. Most of the factors which shape an individual’s personality are a result of their heredity and the environment in which they were exposed to. As explained by Adler, the order in which a child is given birth in will affect how their personality will be developed. These are caused by how parents would treat them, and as explained by parent-child relationship, other than the temperament of a child, the quality of care given by parents or caregiver emphasizes the fact that the environment that is provided for the child will inevitably play a role in shaping a child’s personality. All in all, it cannot be refuted that nature and nurture go hand in hand and interact in numerous ways to shape a child’s personality (Bates & Pettit, 2007).


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