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Middle Childhood » Childhood Development

The Effects of Temperament and Personality on the Developing Minds of Children

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Isn’t it amazing how computer technology and the world wide web/internet now influence family life, and even our personal habits? There is more to come, as the disciplines of medicine, neurology, biology, chemistry and developmental psychology, use other magical feats of science and technology to forever alter the way families exist.

We are getting familiar with the terms, even if we are clueless about the origins of procedures of feats like magnetic imaging, micro macroscopics, ultrasound, and DNA testing and cell photography. Because of all the possibilities, families are going to benefit! No more theories based on intuition! Now, technology provides us with virtual and actual images of how all of us wonderful unique persons got the way we are-a human species who are all-different combinations of body and brain!

Infant-childhood researchers, especially educators, are leaping like frogs to jump into technology “ponds,” aware that science and psycho neurological advances will promote educational intervention and prevention of childhood delays, developmental problems and even diseases and syndromes.

At the top of the “what’s hot?” list of technology breakthroughs is undoubtedly the array of new studies of the brain. All of us are rethinking our years and year of behavior observations, and putting together new interpretations of what we know to be preformed early developments in brain activity.

What this allows early childhood researchers, parents and other child-watchers to do is to step back and also rethink what we already know about the interactive effects of environment, parent-child relationships, and a child’s personality on the developing mind. While babies are not born talking in sentences, both their brains and their social personalities are ceaselessly learning from their time in the womb to the time of their demise. These little persons are experts (via reflexes and other processes) at firing information around their fast growing brains like fireflies in the dark.

All this new knowledge is arriving just in time! It isn’t a secret that most parents are experiencing difficult times as they raise their families. Families are caught up in a mire of multitasking, confusing beliefs about guidance and discipline, and overly busy daily living. One very tired dad told this observer he was consumed by work and never cooked anymore at home. A mom relayed the fact she seemed to live in her car an has such a case of “kid nerves” that she doesn’t let them talk to each other, in the car or in stores, because they might argue. She resorted to putting a TV in the back seat, turns on her CD player, and tunes out.

Families are literally running themselves into depression and states of raggedness trying to keep pace. And what is the effect on a child’s personality and brain development as a result of family life styles like these? If children, even infants, are scheduled beyond what is possible for adults to do in a day, what chance do children have to pay attention, regulate their own behavior and act according to their own temperamental traits?

According to recent family studies, the result is violence and child-parent rage reported by teachers of even three year-olds. This observer is often called into day care centers who are evicting children as young as 24 months old from their programs for unacceptable behavior, or is it unacceptable acting out of mental frustration and adults who do not recognize personality traits?

Elementary schools are routinely refusing kindergarten admittance to children of a certain age, not because of age, but because the boys and girls are not “ready.” Their brains and mental acuity, influenced by demeanor issues, affect their behavior and treatment of each other and seem to interfere with concentration and learning. Their bodies and physical development seem to be working fine. No one bothered to get toe know their temperamental traits or sort out who each child really is!

As families run fast to keep up with responsibilities, they spend little time together, and very little of that at home, just hanging out. The Ohio Family Focus research group data shows that school age children exhibit minor fears and trauma, increased stress, daily irritability, depression, even bipolar symptoms when they have no free time or time to just relax. Interestingly, watching TV is not considered by children who participated in the studies as free time, or time at home with their parents.

A Bank Street day care study found that babies who don’t spend at least half of their 24 clock hours at home in a clean, healthy setting get sick and stay sick longer than those who do. High quality infant day care centers know this, and strenuously recommend a home atmosphere during the hours the infant is not in child care.

Infants and preschoolers need frequent “rest stops” where they can think about their own thinking, and develop a sense of self about who they are. The positive effects of having shelter, free time, and emotional reality checks and adult supervision, are that their developing minds and personalities thrive. They get smarter faster, and the chemistry of brain research clearly shows us where and how that occurs.

“The child’s mind,” according to Indian lore, “takes in all that is said to it, and believes it to be true.” Some families who are on the fast track have no trouble remembering to praise and thank their children, to give them compliments and to keep criticism to a minimum, but it requires effort and the cost to parents is the time it takes to do these things.

Think of your children’s minds (brains) as huge galaxies, always roaming the universe, never staying in place, or being dull or dark. Those minds are always in some orbit, designed to be active, never at full rest. All children’s  personalities are also analogous to these orbital bodies. Each one is unique, the characteristics are all different, but…they all shine in their own time.

Two examples of the effects of personality on the developing minds of very young children may help to convince families to find ways to spend more time at home and wean themselves from overly orchestrated “busy” ness. A four month girl is taken to a sitter at 6 am five days a week, but happens to be an infant who sleeps a lot and is a low energy person. The infant can’t seem to rev up when aroused so early, falls apart, shakes with irritability and does a lot of moaning, since she isn’t by nature a crier.

The infant, Shelley, is rushed and fussed over, in order to soother her; the pediatrician, who uses the same day care center, calls her “colicky.” The developmental reality is not colic. It is that, in fact, her personality traits are established and stable, and neglecting her needs as a person for early day rest coupled with her low energy level make her feel anxious. Her chest and heart rate fluctuate, making her feel uncomfortable and “low.” She doesn’t get interested in her environment much all day and only livens up when she gets home.

As another example of the effects of personality on the developing mind is a three year-old person named Joey, who is the the orginal “energizer bunny.” His high energy level and pleasant mood make him an enthusiastic child, but when he runs all over the house, pretending to be Superman, adults yell at him: “stop that, get over her, watch TV; sit down.” Joe, whose personality traits also include a long attention span, and high interest in everything he touches, obeys, being the good Superman that he is!

Joey’s body stops briefly, but his mind can’t and doesn’t. Joey’s mind is still creating ideas about his personal version of Superman. So, you guessed it, he leaps away to take the lion hiding under his bed and throw it into the forest. His thoughts and actions provoke adult attention. Joey’s personality gets him in trouble.

Personality, not bad behavior is the cause of this troubles, but he gets punished anyway. Joe’s personality traits are the force behind his “mind at work.” He has consistently high energy levels, an enthusiastic, long attention span and appropriate behavior for his type of personality and mental learning style.

This observer guesses that families are having a harder time controlling and managing children because they don’t have (or take) the time to really observe their children’s personality traits. When family members figure out the talents and abilities of each little person in the family before children go to preschool or child care, their children are more apt to be cooperative, helpful and accepted by teachers and caregivers.

This observer guarantees that if families are encouraged to identify and name the abilities of each little person early in life, they will feel less like disciplinarians and more like the “practically perfect parent”, management company – one that closely guides and supervises by talking and directing.

Harsh treatment of children is a real concern and a high priority problem in most communities. It does not need to be that way. An alternative protocol to the maltreatment of children is to do three things, as a parent, a family member or a professional: (a) think about the talents and gifts each child has; (b) reflect on how these contribute to each child’s personality and style of thinking; and (c) develop an inner acceptance of and adaptation to the inevitability that personality traits are good things and are stable over a person’s lifetime.

There is no point in fighting City Hall! Households and classrooms are full of good matches between personalities and not-so-good ones; be accepting and patient and work with each personality as if it were a ball of clay to be rolled, shaped and displayed as a piece of priceless art!

Even from infancy, children have personal habits that can be, and often need be, changed to fall in line with adult and teacher expectations. Good study habits, bad eating habits, good bedtime habits, and bad body parts picking habits – all these can be classified as either acceptable or unacceptable, and viewed as covert or overt behavior. But when we talk of personality, we depart from behavior, in so far as temperament drives behavior, not the other way around.

Since every person is born with a body, a brain and a personality, these three conditions of human creating need to be valued and deemed worthy. Feelings of self worth in children must be cultivated and developed in order that children feel successful and self confident. Moreover, every child born has one goal in life and that is to demand attention. The adult’s goal in life, however, is to give attention for the right reasons and signal “better luck next time” when there is no cause for celebration.

Since each infant’s temperamental style emerges so early and so uniquely, it must be (and now activity maps in the brain show it to be true) considered to be the expression of the infant mind at work. The young child’s mind alternates between reality and imaginary, and between actual and perceived events that occur in his life.

These mental thought processes change with intensity and purpose as the cortex of the brain becomes more layered and areas of the brain become dominant for certain functions. Moreover, young children’s brains are not one-sided or one dimensional. All young children use both hemispheres of the body and the brain to think, to feel, to be! There are so many cells in every nook and cranny of the brain and body that one area can take over function for another with time and practice.

The body and brain love to practice, to rehearse, to do over and over again repetitious tasks; they always learn something new in the process of reinvention and surprise. The body and brain are never bored! They never take a nap, or a vacation, or say, “that’s too hard, or too easy.”

In the interests of success for every child, all of us need to keep in mind how miraculous the body and brain really are and how important to our future the safety, health, education and wellbeing of our children really is. Children are not possessions, property or decoration. They are developing person’s who deserve the respect of adults, communities and families. Take the time to know each child in your life as a person – complete with temperamental traits, abilities and talents. With guidance, nurturance and support, each child will far exceed any expectations or dreams, except their own!

Ask Dr. Susan