Personality is a highly diverse and misunderstood topic of understanding for many people; unfortunately, this is the case for many parents when it comes to raising children. The bottom-line to recognize is the that parents, too often, have a poor grasp of the significance of their child's development and how it should be approached; what I mean to convey by this statement is the brevity of what personality development harbors for children as well as their parents. All too often, I see parents performing roles of authoritarian dictatorship rather than that of a parent; on the other side of the coin, they do not take adequate responsibility as parents for the things that they should. What results is a flex of force where it should not be, and listlessness in the areas where there should be authority.
Perhaps the best example to examine occurred when we visited the small town of Manitou Springs, the starting point for Pike's Peak. My wife and I were vacationing at a resort in Colorado, not far from our home. While on a cog railway to the summit, our seats were assigned next to a middle-aged man, possibly in his early forties, and his three children: his twelve year-old son, and his twins, a boy and a girl, both nearing their third birthday. The trip took a little over three hours to complete, and as we began, we enjoyed in some simple conversation about the scenery and trips each of us had taken in the past. As the train wound its way up the mountain, however, the almost three-year old twins began to grow restless.
As we neared 8000 feet in elevation, the screaming, yelling and boisterousness of the group across the way grew in intensity. The little ones could not seem to sit still, and I noticed the 12-year old speaking in direct defiance to his father with regard to being told not to antagonize and instigate the little ones. At many points there were very loud cries of displeasure; I am certain that many conversations were interrupted due to the volume level. When we had seen (and heard) just about enough of our guests on the other side of the train, the real shock to both of us came; the desperate father, in a last-ditch effort to contain the chaos of his little ones, reverted to this quote: "If you kids don't stop, I'm going to tell your mother!"
Apparently, what I thought to be a last-ditch effort at gaining the upper hand was a common standard for the group; the father must have said that very same thing a dozen times more before we reached our destination, and it continued on the way down! The wife and I joke that the best part of that trip was the thirty minutes we had outside in the five below temperature, taking pictures of surrounding Colorado Springs and Kansas, and freezing half to death!
What significance I mean to convey regarding the example is that often times, it can be difficult to gauge for parents when to stop children from doing something they should not be doing, and when to let them explore and develop a sense of personality. The two are separated by a relatively thin line, one that can disappear altogether under the right (or more appropriately, wrong) circumstances. Similarly, where one parent may view children's actions as normal and perfectly within reason for developing a sense of self, another may not. This is not neccessarily a matter of who is right and who is wrong; rather, the bulk of it has to do with the child's needs and capabilities.
The formula within people (particularly children) to develop a personality is there, within that person, somehow buried within the DNA particles; it is also waiting to be shaped, form the experiences that the child has. These two aspects combine to make a person who is vastly different from anyone else in the entire world. The amazing aspect of DNA has yet to be fully explained in its amazing capacity; similarly, the concept of environment and how it affects people is somewhat of a mystery to sociologists and psychologists. However, what we know from these two aspects, especially in combination, is that they form to make a person who is uniquely all himself; there is no one else like them in the entire world.
My older sister was a very independent person when she was growing up; there was hardly an instance that she would not take a particular stance on, and what's more, a stance she would let you know about. This personality is one that continues to this day. Often, in reflection of my siblings and the kinds of people they are, I am curious to consider parents; my mother, who was (and is) a similarly driven person, who is opinionated and considers many different facets of things discusses; my father, who is knowledgeable and wise, and who expresses much thought upon a matter when asked. These two people came together, and their second-born child was highly motivated, independent, and often outspoken individual. That is the power of DNA: the power to embrace what two were before and enmesh those qualities within another person.
Her environmental experiences also made her what she is to this day. She had many experiences that taught her to react in specific ways, think in a manner that is conducive to society, to employ rationality within the realms of reason and consideration for others. Some of this can be taught, but most of it usually has to do with how our DNA reacts and responds to given environmental situations. Of course, my parents were sure to see that she most of what she needed in life. But there was a certain aspect to all of that that was a capacity of nature and her DNA all to itself. There is only so much that parents are capable of doing when it comes to assisting their children.
That is why it is significant to bear in mind that the child (your child) is already unique: he or she has been given the amazing capacity of the mother's and the father's elements of DNA, something that no other person will share. What makes this different from other siblings is that degree to which certain parts of DNA are amalgamated within the child, as well as gender, and most importantly, their environmental upbringing. Parents will vary in the way their raise children; this is important mostly due to the fact that children are always different: they differ at certain ages things will be achieved or accomplished, or in how they react to specific instances, and so on.
Bearing in mind that your children are not going to be like you or anyone else (at least in the manner that you once thought), how can you aid them in their quest for a sense of personality and a sense of self?
First, allow your child the privilege to explore who they are, as a person in their entirety. This is something that may not occur until later life, and indeed, it takes a long time (depending upon the person, it may be 18 years, or it may be 25 years). Exploration can range from physical to spiritual, and be ready to recognize what is helpful and what is harmful, i.e., too much physical experimentation. While they are in your household, allow them to express themselves within reason, i.e., singing loudly, or allowing them to romp through the house (be careful not to let them break anything). Be mindful of what kinds of activities they enjoy, and how they go about those activities.
Embrace your child by allowing them the freedom to engage and immerse themselves in certain social activities and events; in this manner, they will develop an environmental capacity of personality. This can begin at a very young age, often for children under 12 months. Good places to do this are at the church nursery, or at a daycare setting, somewhere with other children of a similar age.
Recognize some of the same behaviors you see in your children that you once performed yourself, and watch how that develops. You may see your kids with an industrious attitude, or they may be more tomboyish, just like you might have been. Recognize that part of the personality, and embrace them for that characteristic. Similarly, be mindful of the behaviors that you did not have, and watch for how they develop. Be mindful that not all actions are okay (hitting the family pet, or younger siblings, screaming, yelling at adults, etc.), and recognize what needs to be corrected and what needs to be endorsed.
Temperament with children is different as well; watch for things that make them easily upset or angry. If the child is too young to gauge this for themselves, make sure you as the parent are able to take them out of a situation that will grow volatile easily. However, if they are able to problem-solve, allow them to do so. This is dependent upon the child's age, as well as the parent's knowledge of their son or daughter.
Bear in mind, with all instances, there is an environmental aspect that lies without you or child's locus of control. Be mindful of what these may be; this can be caused by another child's pain ranging from medical issues to divorce, or one of a number similar social events that cannot be controlled, even something as simple as weather conditions. This is where parental "sixith-sense" comes in, knowing how to approach situations and in what time-frame to do so.
With these ideas at hand, you will be able to recognize and assess your child's personality type and why. While not all of the answers lie within this article, and it would be to your (and your child's) benefit to research the topic more, this is an introductory consideration to help for the future. Search the library or local bookstore for any topics personality and personality development. You will be surprised at how many topics on the subject will come up.
Above all else seen here, the most important aspect to bear in mind is to love your child. I know of no greater power to show acceptance than to let your child know that they are loved, by your words and by your actions. In this way, they will almost automatically turn out to be good people, and you will be doing society a wonderful service.
Dave Martin lives in Falcon, CO, with his wife and two dogs. He enjoys writing on various psychological topics, as well as Biblical aspects of wisdom and child rearing. While he is not yet a father (at least to humans), he very much loves children and wants to have a good number of kids someday soon.