Analysis of Factors Involved in Shaping a Child’s Personality: Effects of Birth Order and Parental Behaviour

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Table of contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Factors involved in shaping a child’s personality
  3. References


The debate over the relative contributions of nature versus nurture on personality development in children has always been an ongoing discussion. The purpose of this article was to explore the various factors that post an influential effect on shaping a child’s personality. The present study examined the direct associations between a child’s personality with social and environmental factors. In particular on birth order effects, parental behaviour and modelling. Direct association between a child’s personality and genetic factors was also examined. The factors were explained using Alfred Adler and behaviorist Albert Bandura theory. The findings suggest that despite external factors playing a huge role in shaping a child’s personality, genes still provide a certain level of influential effect. To achieve a better understanding of how the factors influence a child’s personality, future research is needed to explore the impact of the children’s personality and dynamics of the relationship between parents and children.

Factors involved in shaping a child’s personality

The term personality, popularized by Gordon Allport, is defined as the psychophysical framework inside an individual which makes their characteristic patterns of behaviour, feelings, and thoughts (Allport, 1961). Many different theories of child development have been advanced over the years to explain various aspects of human growth. This line of discussion is essential as, in recent years, research in neuroscience revealed that interactions with caregivers in early development has a significant influence on the neurological development of the brain which can consequentially affect a child's personality development (Canel, 2016). Hence, psychologist has been interested in the formation of personality in the early childhood years in order to understand human behaviour. On the basis of explaining personality development, personality theorist such as Alfred Adler embraced the view that how we are, is dependent on the environment factors (Eckstein and Kaufman, 2012). He stressed the importance of what he termed social context in personality development (Eckstein and Kaufman, 2012). However, behaviorist such as Albert Bandura adopted different views; he emphasized that personality is learned through the social situation (Bandura, 1971). In this current article, an attempt will be made to explain the various factors that contribute to shaping a child’s personality with Adler and Bandura’s theory. These factors will be discussed in terms of theories, research, and other literature, with a particular focus on factors shaping personality during the first few years of life.

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The importance of birth order on personality has been a long-standing interest in psychology (Healey, & Ellis, 2007). According to Adler, he believes that an individual’s family constellation is a huge contributing factor to the development of a person’s style of life. In a study done by Healey and Ellis (2007), firstborns were found to receive greater investment from their parents and have their pick of niches within the family system. They tend to demonstrate a stronger motivation to meet parental expectation, follow suit with their parent's interest, and often serve as surrogate parents for their younger siblings as well (Healey and Ellis, 2007). Consequently, firstborns tend to be more traditional, more inclined to support conventional morality, are more reliable, organized, and conscientious and be academically successful (Healey and Ellis, 2007). However, with the addition of another member, the oldest child is found to gradually become timid, and have a higher likelihood to experience neuroticism from the result of dethronement from the birth of a second child (Engler, 2013).

Later-born is observed to have a more constraining developmental challenge as opposed to the firstborn (Healey and Ellis, 2007). According to Adler, second borns are more cooperative, however excessively competitive towards the elder child (Feist & Rosenburg, 2012). Second borns tend to identify less with their parents and are often subjected to bullying or domination by the firstborn (Healey and Ellis, 2007). Their development is highly reliant on how the elder child treats them. If the older child is supportive, then healthy development is more probable whereas if the older child is resentful, issues in development arise (Feist & Rosenburg, 2012). The youngest child, on the other hand, is often the pampered ones among the other siblings (Maltby, Day, & Macaskill, 2017). According to a study done by Engler, over-pampering leads to them having a higher probability to become a selfish, highly dependent and irresponsible individual as the child grows old (Engler, 2013). In additionally, they have a likelihood to develop a higher need for approval and have troubles handling criticism and hate (Maltby, Day, & Macaskill, 2017). This suggests that as the youngest child grows older, they may become manipulative and have the urge to seek for control if their siblings or peers are overbearing (Engler, 2013). According to Healey and Ellis (2007), these differences between the later-borns and the eldest child are hypothesized to make the later-borns more open to experiences than the firstborns, more likely to be supportive of egalitarian social change, to emphasize with the downtrodden, to challenge the status quo, to oppose authority, and be the “rebels” in the family (Healey and Ellis, 2007).

Studies relating birth order to behavioural differences also found that birth order is one of the important factors for the development of children's social-cognitive skills (Recchia, Nowe, & Alexander, 2009). This was supported by a study done by Recchia, Nowe, and Alexander (2009), where they found that the second child is more likely to involve the elder child in their learning progress and cognitive ability (Recchia, Nowe, & Alexander, 2009). Second borns are found to exercise more learner involvement and tend to allow failure to partake in their error correction process as compared to the first-borns (Recchia, Nowe, & Alexander, 2009). In general, the results suggest that every child is uniquely treated within the family based on their birth order. Family relationships changes as each additional child are added, thus suggesting that how each new child added is handled is crucial.

Aside from family constellation, Alfred Adler also brought about the focus of parenting style and parent-child relationships. According to Adler, both parents play a significant role in the child’s development of a distinctive style of life that is relatively well set by 5 years of age (Maltby, Day, & Macaskill, 2017). In a study conducted by Denissen, Aken and Dubas (2009), they reviewed the association between parenting style and children’s personality and found that the level of extraversion in a child is positively associated with parental nurturance. Children are seen to have a higher extraversion level when they have better perceptions of parental warmth and understanding (Denissen, Aken, & Dubas, 2009). In addition, with regards to agreeableness, Denissen, Aken and Dubas (2009) found that a child’s level of agreeableness is also associated with the quality of care that the parents provide to the child. Children are seen to be less defiant against rules and regulation and give in during conflicting situations when higher levels of warmth and care are given by the parents (Denissen, Aken, & Dubas, 2009). Consistent with this prediction, Becker and Becker (2008) found that the parent-child relationship is seen to shape a child’s capability to socialize with their friends, providing them with their sense of security to explore the world, and ability to handle their emotions and stress. This suggests that children need a proper nurturing relationship so that a healthy personality may emerge.

Despite the substantial research evidence proposing that the social context play a factor in shaping a child’s personality, Albert Bandura believes that we acquired behaviours through direct experience such as emulating someone’s’ behaviour or observing the behaviour of others (Bandura, 1971). According to Bandura, the social learning process begins when individuals focus their attention on modelled behaviours (Bandura, 1971). Individuals choose potential models based on their attractiveness characteristics such as nurturance, status, similarities to the observer and power (Bandura et al., 1963, as cited in Brown & Trevino, 2014). When observers are exposed to the various styles of thinking and behaving, they vary in what they adopt and create a new blend of personal characteristics (Bandura, Ross & Ross, 1963, as cited in Bandura, 1999). This was consistent with a study done by Brown and Trevino (2014), where they found that children tend to select an attractive ethical role model to learn from them by observing and emulating modelled behaviour. Children who are exposed to ethical role models will pick up the ethical behaviour characteristics presented by their role model, which will facilitate their growth to become an ethical leader in the future. This suggests that a child’s personality development is mediated by the role model that they follow.

Research has likewise further confirmed that the influence of parental modelling can have important and far-reaching consequences for the moral behaviour of the children (Brown & Trevino, 2014). Despite the numerous options of potential role models to choose from, parents are the most important type of role model for children (Brown & Trevino, 2014). Parents’ model not only through words, but more importantly through actions – more notably in the closeness of the bonds that they form with their children, the standards they set, the values they carry, and the disciplinary methods they use (Brown & Trevino, 2014). According to Brown and Trevino (2014) study, they found that children whom parents pass on altruistic values to them such as setting standards and explaining why rules are important, often have a healthier moral development. This approach sharply contrasts with an authoritarian style of parenting that is based on strict compliance to authority and intimidation through physical punishment.

Aside from parental behaviour, the social environment is further seen to have an influence on children’s moral development. This is in particular with older children, teachers and coaches who have an important role in the development of ethical attitudes and beliefs of these young children (Atkins et al. 2004; Perry and Nixon 2005; Sizer and Sizer, 1999, as cited in Brown & Trevino, 2014). Moreover, peers can likewise influence the learning of behaviour and standards, however modelling by parents and other adults still remains a powerful source of learning to children (Bandura 1986, as cited in Brown & Trevino, 2014).

While environmental factors are seen to be a huge contributing factor to shape a child’s personality, there is a huge body of evidence that suggests that genetics play an important role as well in shaping a child’s personality in early life (Leve et al., 2010). Studies have shown that the children’s personality traits were moderately stable (Carvalho 2016; Ilies and Judge 2003; Karmakar et al. 2017, as cited in Zhang, Zhou, Gu, Lei, & Fan, 2018). Therefore, suggesting that many aspect of personality is shaped predominantly in the early years of life.

With regards to nature playing a role in shaping a child’s personality, the prenatal environment was observed to be a huge contributing factor in the development of a child’s attention behaviour and externalizing trajectories (Crockenberg, Leerkes, & Jo, 2008; Feist & Rosenburg, 2012). Maternal anxiety during pregnancy is seen to correlate with children having anxiety, depression, and oppositional defiant disorders (Meadows, McLanahan, & Brooks-Gunn, 2007, as cited in Leve et al., 2010). In their study, infants whose early rearing environment involves maternal anxious and depressive symptoms, tend to show a more heightened awareness during a frustrating task (Leve et al., 2010). Similarly, Feist and Rosenburg (2012) also found that the stress level of the mother has an influence on how the child will respond in times of stress. Infants whose mothers experience an abnormal amount of stress during pregnancy tend to have impaired stress functions (Feist & Rosenburg, 2012). In addition, the infants are found to have greater baseline levels of stress hormones; and a quicker, stronger, and more pronounced psychological response to stress, all of which persist into childhood (Fiest & Rosenburg, 2012). Therefore suggesting that early encounters like the prenatal environment can cause behavioural alternations on a developing fetus by affecting the foetal neurodevelopment, which will consequently influence the personality of the child as it grows older.

Thus far, the essay has discussed with research evidence that the association of environmental factors in a child’s life is seen to be an influencing factor in shaping a child’s personality. The effects of birth order and parental behaviour were found to be an influencing factor in shaping a child’s personality as explained by Adler’s theory. In addition, the social environment is also seen to have an influence on children’s moral development, lending support to Bandura’s model of social learning theory. However, there is also substantial evidence to suggest that the genes have an influence on the child’s personality, suggesting that many aspects of personality are shaped predominantly in the early years of life. In general, the present findings demonstrate that in order for a child to have a stronger, healthier personality, a child needs a proper nurturing relationship. Future studies should examine the dynamic of relationships between parents and children across different age periods. Additionally, a focus on the impact of the children is needed to fully grasp the complex determinations of parent care relationship.


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Analysis of Factors Involved in Shaping a Child’s Personality: Effects of Birth Order and Parental Behaviour. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 18, 2024, from
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