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Factors That Shape a Child’s Personality

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 3002 words Published: 11th Apr 2018

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There is a growing interest in factors that influences and shapes a child’s personality, genetics and environmental factors are the two most prominent factors that are rising in debates. Personality theorist such as Sigmund Freud supports genetic factors and that it plays a huge role in shaping a child’s personality while Alfred Adler supports environmental factors that dominate in shaping the personality of a child. However, there are other studies and research that indicates genetic and environmental factors are both essential in building the personality of the child. The personality of the parents and the child reciprocates with each other to build a more positive parent-child relations depending on the situations and environments.

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Personality is the fundamental expression of feelings and emotions through bodily organizations, intelligences as well as special capacity as defined by Rue (2008). This is supported by Allport (1961), where he stated that personality is an individual’s characteristic patterns whereby it is stable throughout an individual’s development. Over the past few decades, increased studies have shown that genetics and environmental factors have an impact on a child’s behaviour (Rutter, 2006). One of such theories was provided by Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual development, where he supported the factors of nature in shaping a child’s personality during their early years. Human sexual life does not start at puberty but it begins soon after birth, with clear manifestations (Kline, 2014). Yet, there are opposing personality theorists who believed that the personality of an individual is shaped through interactions with the environment and the people around them. Examples are Costa and McCrae’s five factor model where personality of individuals are categorised as openness to experiences, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness as well as neuroticism and Alfred Adler’s theory on birth orders, where birth orders of an individual in the family will affect their personality.

Child temperament is one of the most prominent genetic factor that shapes a child’s personality. It can be defined as the fundamental basis for affective arousal, expression and regulation components of personality (Goldsmith et al, 1987). Temperamental traits begins in early childhood and will be stabilized across time and it is the basic elements for later personality development (Coplan, Reichel & Rowan, 2009). Children with difficult temperament will have a higher tendency to withdraw in connecting with new environments and people and they are more pessimistic and have negative emotionality (Laukkanen et al, 2014). For example, shyness is regarded as the temperamental tendency to experience fear and anxiety and they tend to exhibit more negative emotions and are inclined to the developing of internal problems (Coplan, Reichel & Rowan, 2009). Therefore, when they are interacting with the societies and they are more likely to stimulate protective and over controlling responses from their parents or caregivers (Coplan, Reichel & Rowan, 2009).

One of such personality theorist, Sigmund Freud, believed that the fundamental personality was formed by events and things that happened in the first 6 years of life of an individual (Carroll, 2010). Carroll (2010) also stated that Freud classified a different erogenous zone where libidinal energy was directed and if that stage failed to complete, the libidinal energy will remained in that particular zone, leading to the child experiencing a fixation. Erogenous zones refers to areas of the body where they are highly sensitive to touch and are related to sexual pleasures. Freud’s psychosexual development consisted of oral, anal, phallic and genital stages as analysed by Carroll (2010).

Oral stage is known as the first stage of psychosexual development and it lasts for the first eighteen months of a human life, described by Carroll (2010). According to him, it is a stage where the mouth, lips and tongue are the primary erogenous zone. Garcia (1995) explained that during this stage, mothers are the ones who have the most direct communication with the child and the mothers should attend to the child without implementing anxiety in the child. In accordance to Freud’s theory, complications and dispute in this stage could result in oral fixation and his could lead to behaviours such overeating, smoking and alcohol abuse (Carroll, 2010). The subsequence stage will be the anal stage where the anal area is the elementary erogenous zone and it is the period where children begins with their toilet training where the child begins to adopt the practical life lesson of how and when to let go and hold on to certain things and events (Carroll, 2010 & Garcia, 1995). Carroll (2010) stated that failure in this stage could result in traits such as stubbornness, cleanliness and orderliness. The following stage, namely the phallic stage according to Freud, is the most critical period where it occurs between three to six years old. Carroll (2010) explained that Freud believed that during this stage, boys will undergo the Oedipus complex, while girls will undergo Electra complex and develop penis envy. He also described that oedipus complex is where a male child has sexual attraction for his mother and electra complex is where female child has incestuous desire for her father. However, before this stage ends, the male and female child will distinguish with parents of the same sex and embraces its masculine and feminine characteristics (Carroll, 2010). Superego from Freud’s psychoanalysis theory where he emphasise on unconscious mind in humans, will also being to establish around the same time and most children will take up the values of their parents (Carroll,2010). He also suggested that before entering puberty, the child will go through latency stage where libido in inverted and contained (Garcia, 1995). Carroll (2010) indicated that during this stage, sexual interest are supressed and children during this stage will play with others of the same sex. Garcia (1995) suggested that educations from caregiver and role model can help the children to learn more about the importance and the responsibilities of self-govern, self-expressions and its consequences. During puberty, the child will enter the last stage of psychosexual development, the genital stage whereby the child will develop the ability to adopt adult sexual behaviours and in this stage, libido is to be directed to an object that is significantly different from those childhood sexuality (Carroll, 2010).

Genetics differences in individual’s personality are only predispositions to behaves in certain ways, conversely to the environmental factors that may suggest that different children with the similar predisposition in a different directions (Keogh, 2003). One dominant environmental factor is the parenting style and it has been seen as a fairly stable contributions to childrearing practices. Parenting style is characterized as parent’s behaviours and their interactions with their child over different situations, creating the interactional climate for parent-child relations (Laukkanen et al, 2014). Crockenberg et al (2008) indicated that maternal behaviour play a key role in developing children’s attention behaviour, personality and externalising trajectories. Fromm (2013) supported this by explaining that one of the essential factors in shaping a child’s personality is the relatedness to the child’s mother and how the mother behaves will influence the child’s behaviour and personality. He also stated that Freud had dreams about his mother and it implies that as a child, he wanted to be fed by his mother, this symbolises as being cared for, loved and protected by his mother. If a child is being neglected and not fed by its caregiver, the child will grow impatient and angry as he or she feels that they have the right to immediate and complete attention (Fromm, 2013).

Belsky and Barends (2002) claimed that the Five Factor Model (FFM), namely openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism, by Costa and McCrae is the basic framework with regards to parents’ personality and the quality of parent-child relation. For example, neuroticism refers to individuals who have a high tendency to experience negative emotions such as anxiety, hostility and more important emotionally instability (Vondra & Belsky, 1993). Parents who score higher in neuroticism are more anxious and are more likely to embrace an overprotective style of parenting because of their tendencies to identify threats to their child in the environment (Coplan, Reichel & Rowan, 2009). They also indicated that parents who score higher in neuroticism are unlikely to be responsive and displaying warm in parenting. On the other hand, agreeableness in individuals are reflected through their interpersonal skills, they can range from compassionate, trustworthy and being helpful to highly irritable and manipulation on others (Coplan, Reichel & Rowan, 2009). Coplan, Reichel and Rowan (2009) also explained that mothers who are high in agreeableness exhibit more parental warmth and are highly responsive. Due to the tendencies to give in, agreeable parents will more likely to give in to their child, leading to a more harmonious parent-child relationships (Denissen, Aken & Dubas, 2009). Extraversion is correlated with a higher level of positive effects and parents that score higher in extraversion are more likely to have a positive relationship with their child (Denissen, Aken & Dubas, 2009). Belsky and Berends (2002) support this by stating that parents who are high in extraversion are more sensitive and responsive to their child. Parents who are high in conscientiousness are said to have a higher level of control over their own lives and therefore they are less regulated by the family rules, there are also evidences that suggest that parents with high level of conscientiousness are correlated with higher quality of parent-child relation (Denissen, Aken & Dubas, 2009). Lastly, they also indicated that parents who are high in openness to experience are found to have a positive relationship with their child as they are less restrictive towards their child due to them having a broader and more permeable conscientiousness. Personalities of parents have significant correlations with the personality of the child as supported by Kochanska, Friesenborg, Lange and Martel (2004), they stated that parents who are more agreeable have infants who are more able to focus their attention and more fearful while parents who are more empathic have infants who are better focused and less prone to anger and parents who are more open have infants that are more joyful. Laukkanen et al (2014) also indicated that parents who show high level of psychological control towards their child, will lead to the child developing a more maladaptive outcomes such as having lower self-esteem and lower academic performances.

Another environmental factor is the birth order of the child and personality among siblings that was highly emphasized by Alfred Adler. Leman (2009) also pointed out that parental values are powerful factors that can affect every child in the family, especially the firstborns. Sulloway (2011) support birth order by conducting a study where adults were asked to compare their personality traits with their siblings. He found out that firstborns tend to be more achieving and conscientious while the laterborns tend to be more rebellious an open. Leman (2009) emphasized that firstborns are more reliable and they tend to differentiate right and wrong and believe that there is a right way to accomplish things. He also stated that firstborns are natural leaders and often tend to be achievement oriented. Whereby the middle child will more likely to be contradictory of the child before them in the family and they are often loyal and competitive (Leman, 2009). Leman (2009) also suggested that being the middle child, they are not expected to accomplish as much as those who are born before them and they are often the negotiator of the family who tries to keep the peace. As for the lastborns, Leman (2009) describe them as sociable, outgoing, spontaneous and humorous and they are often the most pampered ones in the family. However, being the youngest would mean that they are most likely to be picked on by other members in the family (Leman, 2009). He also stated that the entire family and its environment will change when a child is born and how the parents behaves and act towards the child will determine a great part in the child’s destiny. Leman (2009) stressed that a child’s personality depends largely on the personality and the parenting style of the parents. If parents are to controlling and applied too much stress or too unreasonable towards the firstborns, they can turn the child to a rebel who will messes up just to agitate the parents instead of excelling in their academic (Leman, 2009).

To conclude, nature and nurture come together in many ways in shaping a child’s personalities (Bates & Pettit, 2007). Those children whose personalities and temperaments are in conflicts with cultural norms and parental expectations have a higher tendency to evoke negative reactions from others and in turn, parents will become more controlling and adopting a more authoritarian parenting style (Maccoby, 2007). In some cases, the personalities of children and parents may have a lot of resemblance as they will mimic each other and share a portion of the same genes that will affect their temperament (Denissen, Aken & Dubas, 2009). Therefore, shaping the personality of the child is mostly depending on the reciprocal relations and interactions between the parents and the child. For example, happy and easy infants will have a positive and responsive relationship with their parents and also, affecting ambience in mothers will likewise have positive and consistent relationship with fearful infants as mothers tend to be more protective towards fearful infants (Kochanska, Friesenborg, Lange & Martel, 2004).


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