The other day I was looking at my son as he was playing — he was totally engaged in what he was doing and didn’t notice my stares. As I watched him making the voices for his play scenario and how he jumps around as he came up with a new idea, I thought two things — one, I wanted to freeze that moment and remember what the sound of his voice and the movement of his four-year-old body and two, I wondered what he would be like when he was grown. Would he still be so positive and excited? Would he still be so curious? What aspects of his personality would endure and which would change?
Personality is one of those things in development that both stays the same and changes. I believe the roots of a person’s personality are present from the moment they are born. The temperament blossoms into an adult personality. I also think that when a child is able to realize their personality (and not the one we imagine for them) they will know themselves better and perhaps at an earlier age, giving them both the confidence and ability to pursue their dreams. As I watch my son playing, I wonder how can I support his budding personality?
3 Ways to Help Your Child Develop Their Unique Personality
Know Your Child
Do you ever look in your child’s eyes and wonder who they are and who they will become? What their dreams and aspirations will be? That really is the first step: To simply notice your child’s personality traits. Here are a few questions to get you started:
Are they shy or outgoing?
Do they think in terms of the big picture or do they focus on the details?
Do they love new adventures or do they prefer to stick to what they know?
Do they like to have time on their own or do they prefer to always be around others?
Do they have a deep sense of intuition, compassion or creativity– what is their greatest strength?
Are they quick to anger or do they have social anxiety — what is their greatest challenge?
Having a picture of your child’s personality in your head will help you to naturally support them. We don’t need to label them, as they can change, but thinking about who they are will help us to think about what they like.
It can also help us to be aware of personality traits that are challenges for our children so we can support and guide them through situations that are harder for them.
Challenge Your Children
Thomas and Chess were two of the original scientists to study temperament. In their book, (affiliate link) Goodness of Fit: Clinical Applications, From Infancy through Adult Life they discuss how parent’s influence their children’s personality.
In one example, they talk about a child who is slow-to-warm-up, meaning that he was more inhibited, shy, and wary of new experiences. When this child’s parents gave him pureed carrots as a baby he spat them out and they never gave him carrots again. By the time he was 10, his diet consisted of hamburgers, boiled eggs, and applesauce. His parents certainly noticed their child’s reactions to new foods and took note, but they never challenged him.
You want to push your child just enough to challenge them, but not so much that they are way outside of their comfort zone.
Take a shy child for example. You want to give her experiences with social situations so that with practice she can slowly come out of her shell and she can develop the skills she’ll need to make friends, but you don’t want to push her so far that she freaks out and withdraws even further. You might start with playdates with just one friend and then slowly build up from there.
I think the key word here is challenge, not stress. If you kids are feeling more challenge than stress, then they will be able to deal with emotions that they have in the situations that are hard for them. If they are feeling more stress than challenge, then they may be overwhelmed and unable to use their coping skills well. In that case, it may be time to pull back.
Consider ‘Goodness of Fit’ in Your Family
‘Goodness of fit’ is a term Thomas and Chess used to describe how well a child’s temperament “fit” with their environment. In their view, no traits are problematic in and of themselves instead, it may be a matter of not fitting in that particular environment.
A classic example is that of a child who is really active and has trouble sitting still in the classroom. The trait of “activity” in and of itself isn’t problematic, but because they are in an environment that isn’t a good fit, it creates a conflict.
My son, for example, is very outgoing and friendly whereas, I am introverted. There is a bit of a conflict between our personalities. He would love to spend every day with friends on the playground, I’d rather have a few quiet days at home. My ability to meet his socialization needs has definitely been a challenge and is something I think about a lot in my parenting.
Thinking about how our children “fit” in our family and in broader contexts can help us support their individual personalities. If a parent is very outgoing and their child is more reserved, recognizing that they aren’t just like us can help us to be sensitive to how they might feel.
I hope this post helps you to nurture your child’s unique personality!