Who can say when a child begins developing a personality? Ignoring genetic factors, it’s possible a child starts finding himself while in the womb, solidifying his personality for when he enters this world. Psychologists have considered the question of how personality develops in infants and found many causes for parents to pay careful attention to how they respond to their children.
1. Signs From the Earliest Days
Though some developmental psychologists argue that children younger than 3 months don’t really have personalities, according to John Gottman, author of “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child,” many parents would argue for the other side. When new parents compare their infants with those of other parents, they often find personality differences between those infants, implying that the youngest infants can and do develop personality traits. But whether these traits are because of genes or how the parents feed, hold and talk to the baby is still uncertain.
2. Three-Month, Bright-Eyed Babies
While some question the validity of using the term “personality” for children under 3 months old, no one -- neither parent nor scientist -- can question the validity of personality development after the age of three months. At this time, psychologists use the term “eye brightening,” which describes the new look in an infant’s eyes when she faces another person, usually a parent. This “brightening” of the eyes shows parents that the child is not only aware of faces but is trying to emotionally connect with people. This is an important time in personality development because how a parent responds to these initial attempts at emotional interchange can shape how a child responds to others. For example, Edward Tronick, author of the article “The Still Face Game,” in the journal “Child Development,” found that parents who are unresponsive or negative toward their 3-month-olds ended up with babies who were also unresponsive to parents’ emotions, showed many negative emotions and were withdrawn.
3. Six-Month-Old Explorers
The physical mobility your child gains as he reaches the halfway point to a year gives him more opportunities for growth and development. Babies at this age naturally wish to explore but have an internal need to check with their parents whether their explorations are acceptable. A child at this age will move to certain areas and interact with certain things, all the while constantly looking back at mom. He’s gauging his mom’s reaction to see if his journey is a safe one, and how you react as a parent can help him shape his personality. For example, a responsive encouraging mom shows her infant that the world has many interesting things, encouraging curiosity and extroversion. Non-responsive parents or parents who admonish their children for going being too curious, in contrast, make children fearful of their surroundings. The key battle in this age group is gaining a sense of security, which can only come from the parents.
4. Attachment Takes Time
A psychologist would say that your infant is not officially attached to you until around 9 months old. Nine months is a special age because it is a time in which infants finally understand that the world is consistent: Mom exists even when she’s not in the room. This allows children to grow attached to people, thinking about them when they aren’t physically present. The attachment of your child plays a significant role in shaping her personality, so much so, that an entire field of scientific research has been dedicated to attachment. But what parents should know is that this is the period in which your infant is defining the idea of a human relationship. By acting toward him in a manner that makes her feel both secure -- by giving her the attention and security she needs -- and brave -- by not coddling or reproaching her, she will grow to understand that the relationships in her life are similarly positive, allowing her to develop better relationships with others.
- Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child; John Gottman
- Child Development; The Still Face Game; Edward Tronick
- Theories of Attachment; Carol Mooney
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