How well do you know your own child? Are you excited about the chance to get to know your son or daughter as a unique human being; someone you will only begin to appreciate in the few years he or she lives under your roof?
Your child no doubt possesses a combination of traits that surprise and intrigue you. Her strongest traits are often those you find yourself trying to tone down — especially if those traits are opposite from the ones you were born with. For example, if your child is superenergetic and you are more calm and quiet, you may say "Settle down, please!" a dozen times a day.
On the flip side, you may try to cultivate those traits that come less naturally to your child. If you are extroverted and have a shy child, you may urge him impatiently to let go of your pant leg and join that throng of other children. And while he may remain naturally shy, he eventually is likely to learn that joining other kids — even when he feels uncomfortable — can lead to making new friends.
For this reason, a child may express opposite traits, depending on time and place, expectations and experience. He may be bold and adventurous at times, yet exercise caution and good judgment when needed. But what characterizes your child most strongly? Would you say he is mostly adventurous or mostly cautious?
An adventurous toddler will jump pell-mell into a pool of busy children, while a more cautious one tends to hang back — testing the water before tentatively dipping in. An older cautious child may jump on a trampoline, yet be relieved that it has a net to keep him from falling out. His adventurous and impulsive friend, however, may deliberately try to bounce out, up and over the nine-foot barrier. If successful, he may bump his head on the picnic table, laugh, then do it all over again!
Adventurous kids cause parents hair to go gray early. But more timid children can worry parents as well, as they often need an extra push in life to make the most of their other attributes.
What influences your child's personality?
How a child uses his inborn traits — whether those will be strengthened or subdued — will be influenced throughout his childhood by three or four factors:
- Relationships. Your relationship with your child will have a greater impact on him than that of any other person, so do all you can to nurture him. Also seek to help him develop mutually uplifting relations with siblings, grandparents, friends and others.
- The way he is educated. Be involved in your child's education to ensure that your child's classroom is suited to his makeup. I'm not suggesting that you ask his teacher to cater to your child but to be sure she recognizes his personality traits, builds up his strengths, and encourages him to overcome weaknesses. In some cases, you may even decide that homeschooling is the best option for you and your child.
- The environment in which he lives. Make sure your household provides your child a rich environment — and I'm not talking about material trappings. Two children with similar personalities — one of whom isn't appreciated or encouraged and another who is supported while he explores his interests and passions — will respond differently to life.
- Trauma in early childhood. This last influence may be important to consider if you are raising a child who has been abused or neglected. You may have difficulty separating his innate character traits from those that have evolved out of fear of punishment. One adoptive father noticed his child's compulsion to clean or organize but recognized that his preference for keeping his room neat could either indicate the child's innate love for order or stem from fear. It is possible the child thought that he had been beaten for not keeping his room clean or mistakenly thought neatness would help him be more accepted. Since they were not sure what drove his neatness, this child's adoptive parents were careful not to focus too much praise on that behavior.
In a healthy home, a child's strongest traits generally will follow him from infancy through adulthood. Some kids truly do love to line of up their things in organized ways, from their shoes to their toys! And those strong, innate traits are likely to impact both of you on a daily basis.
Effects of your child's personality traits
A child's strongest traits will affect:
- how he relates to other people,
- how he deals with problems,
- how he organizes his thoughts and carries out tasks, and
- what interests and motivates him.
In other words, becoming familiar with your child's personality will go a long way toward helping you understand why your child acts the way she does. At the same time, the more intimately you get to know a child, the more you will find that he cannot be stereotyped and summed up by one personality type. Yet children often reveal strengths and weaknesses in clusters that seem familiar. And familiarity can breed greater understanding.