father and child

Do parents influence a child’s personality?

Every single person in the world is unique, and each has his/her personality traits. Personalities are like fingerprints. You will never find two of the same kind. Our personalities are a result of the various kinds of experiences we face. It is also a result of our upbringing. Parental influence on personality development of any child is highly significant. It decides the kind of adults we grow into. It is important to ensure that parenting style supports healthy growth and development of the child.

A human doesn’t enter into the world with a fully formed personality springing forth from their genes. Rather, babies enter the world with a temperament — or the raw material of personality — that is sculpted into the personality by experiences in the world: at school, with friends and siblings, and, perhaps most of all, by their parents. But, as an exciting and quickly growing subfield of developmental psychology is finding, not all kids are affected by good or bad parenting in the same way. Some are less affected by what their parents do, while others will be helped or harmed by their caregiver’s behaviour, something called “differential susceptibility” in the literature. According to a new meta-analysis, it’s the kids who have the stormiest inner lives that have the most at stake in family dynamics.

There is clear evidence that parents can and do influence children. There is equally clear evidence that children’s genetic makeup affects their behavioural characteristics, and also influences the way their parents treat them. Twin and adoption studies provide a sound basis for estimating the strength of genetic effects. However, heritability estimates for a given trait vary widely across samples, and no one estimate can be considered definitive. This chapter argues that knowing only the strength of genetic factors, however, is not a sufficient basis for estimating environmental ones and indeed, that attempts to do so can systematically underestimate parenting effects. Children’s genetic predispositions and their parents’ child-rearing regimes are seen to be closely interwoven, and the ways in which they function jointly to affect children’s development are explored.

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Types Of Parental Influence On Personality Development Of Children:

father and child


This kind of parenting is characterized by adherence to rules. It is a dominating style and involves a lot of control. Such parents believe in corporal punishments. Children raised by such parents are believed to be authoritarian themselves, on both social as well as professional front.


Such parents encourage children to be independent. They also set limits and boundaries. Discipline is applied but in a rewarding style. Such parenting increases the level of independence in the child. This leads to better leadership traits. Such children have highly developed social skills, self-control and self-reliance.


Permissive parents are not too authoritative. They set the rules, but rarely enforce them and don’t hand out punishments too often. Such parents are forgiving and believe that kids will be kids. They act as friends rather than parents. Children with such parents are more likely to struggle academically and don’t appreciate rules and authority. Their health is not the best as their parents have allowed them any junk food which may be harmful to their well-being.


Such parents have little or no idea about what their children are doing. They rarely know where their child is and don’t devote much time to their children. Such parents expect their children to raise themselves. It is mostly seen that parents with substance abuse or mental health issues are uninvolved parents. They are unable to cater to their child’s physical or emotional needs. Moreover, such children are likely to grow into adults with very low self-esteem and may exhibit poor social and behavioural skills.

In essence, it is pivotal to maintain a perfect balance between being a friend and a parent. One should know when to pamper them and when to teach them that their actions have consequences.

Social and Personality Development in Childhood

Childhood social and personality development emerges through the interaction of social influences, biological maturation, and the child’s representations of the social world and the self. This interaction is illustrated in a discussion of the influence of significant relationships, the development of social understanding, the growth of personality, and the development of social and emotional competence in childhood.


This interaction can be observed in the development of the earliest relationships between infants and their parents in the first year. Virtually all infants living in normal circumstances develop strong emotional attachments to those who care for them. Psychologists believe that the development of these attachments is as biologically natural as learning to walk and not simply a byproduct of the parents’ provision of food or warmth. Rather, attachments have evolved in humans because they promote children’s motivation to stay close to those who care for them and, as a consequence, to benefit from the learning, security, guidance, warmth, and affirmation that close relationships provide. 

As children mature, parent-child relationships naturally change. Preschool and grade-school children are more capable, have their preferences, and sometimes refuse or seek to compromise with parental expectations. This can lead to greater parent-child conflict, and how parents manage conflict further shapes the quality of parent-child relationships. In general, children develop greater competence and self-confidence when parents have high (but reasonable) expectations for children’s behaviour, communicate well with them, are warm and responsive, and use reasoning (rather than coercion) as preferred responses to children’s misbehaviour. This kind of parenting style has been described as authoritative. Authoritative parents are supportive and show interest in their kids’ activities but are not overbearing and allow them to make constructive mistakes. By contrast, some less-constructive parent-child relationships result from authoritarian, uninvolved, or permissive parenting styles.

Parental roles in relation to their children change in other ways, too. Parents increasingly become mediators (or gatekeepers) of their children’s involvement with peers and activities outside the family. Their communication and practice of values contribute to children’s academic achievement, moral development, and activity preferences. As children reach adolescence, the parent-child relationship increasingly becomes one of “coregulation,” in which both the parent(s) and the child recognizes the child’s growing competence and autonomy, and together they rebalance authority relations. We often see evidence of this as parents start accommodating their teenage kids’ sense of independence by allowing them to get cars, jobs, attend parties, and stay out later.

Family relationships are significantly affected by conditions outside the home. For instance, the Family Stress Model describes how financial difficulties are associated with parents’ depressed moods, which in turn lead to marital problems and poor parenting that contributes to poorer child adjustment. Within the home, parental marital difficulty or divorce affects more than half the children growing up today in the United States. Divorce is typically associated with economic stresses for children and parents, the renegotiation of parent-child relationships (with one parent typically as primary custodian and the other assuming a visiting relationship), and many other significant adjustments for children. Divorce is often regarded by children as a sad turning point in their lives, although for most, it is not associated with long-term problems of adjustment.

Peer Relationships

Parent-child relationships are not the only significant relationships in a child’s life. Peer relationships are also important. Social interaction with another child who is similar in age, skills, and knowledge provokes the development of many social skills that are valuable for the rest of life. In peer relationships, children learn how to initiate and maintain social interactions with other children. They learn skills for managing conflicts, such as turn-taking, compromise, and bargaining. The play also involves mutual, sometimes complex, coordination of goals, actions, and understanding. For example, as infants, children get their first encounter with sharing (of each other’s toys); during pretend play as preschoolers they create narratives together, choose roles, and collaborate to act out their stories; and in primary school, they may join a sports team, learning to work together and support each other emotionally and strategically toward a common goal. Through these experiences, children develop friendships that provide additional sources of security and support to those provided by their parents.

Social Understanding

As we have seen, children’s experience of relationships at home and the peer group contributes to an expanding repertoire of social and emotional skills and also to broadened social understanding. In these relationships, children develop expectations for specific people (leading, for example, to secure or insecure attachments to parents), understanding of how to interact with adults and peers, and developing self-concept based on how others respond to them. These relationships are also significant forums for emotional development.

Remarkably, young children begin developing social understanding very early in life. Before the end of the first year, infants are aware that other people have perceptions, feelings, and other mental states that affect their behaviour, and which are different from the child’s mental states. This can be readily observed in a process called social referencing, in which an infant looks to the mother’s face when confronted with an unfamiliar person or situation. If the mother looks calm and reassuring, the infant responds positively as if the situation is safe. If the mother looks fearful or distressed, the infant is likely to respond with wariness or distress because of the mother’s expression signals danger. In a remarkably insightful manner, therefore, infants show an awareness that even though they are uncertain about the unfamiliar situation, their mother is not and that by “reading” the emotion in her face, infants can learn about whether the circumstance is safe or dangerous, and how to respond.

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Parents look into the faces of their newborn infants and wonder, “What kind of person will this child become?” They scrutinize their baby’s preferences, characteristics, and responses for clues of a developing personality. They are quite right to do so because temperament is a foundation for personality growth. But temperament (defined as early-emerging differences in reactivity and self-regulation) is not the whole story. Although temperament is biologically based, it interacts with the influence of experience from the moment of birth (if not before) to shape personality. Temperamental dispositions are affected, for example, by the support level of parental care. More generally, personality is shaped by the goodness of fit between the child’s temperamental qualities and characteristics of the environment. For example, an adventurous child whose parents regularly take her on weekend hiking and fishing trips would be a good “fit” to her lifestyle, supporting personality growth. Personality is the result, therefore, of the continuous interplay between biological disposition and experience, as is true for many other aspects of social and personality development.

Personality develops from temperament in other ways. As children mature biologically, temperamental characteristics emerge and change over time. A newborn is not capable of much self-control, but as brain-based capacities for self-control advance, temperamental changes in self-regulation become more apparent. For example, a newborn who cries frequently doesn’t necessarily have a grumpy personality; over time, with sufficient parental support and an increased sense of security, the child might be less likely to cry.

Besides, personality is made up of many other features besides temperament. Children’s developing self-concept, their motivations to achieve or to socialize, their values and goals, their coping styles, their sense of responsibility and conscientiousness, and many other qualities are encompassed into personality. Biological dispositions influence these qualities, but even more by the child’s experiences with others, particularly in close relationships, that guide the growth of individual characteristics.

Indeed, personality development begins with the biological foundations of temperament but becomes increasingly elaborated, extended, and refined over time. The newborn that parents gazed upon thus becomes an adult with a personality of depth and nuance.

Social and Emotional Competence

Social and personality development is built from the social, biological, and representational influences discussed above. These influences result in important developmental outcomes that matter to children, parents, and society: a young adult’s capacity to engage in socially constructive actions (helping, caring, sharing with others), to curb hostile or aggressive impulses, to live according to meaningful moral values, to develop a healthy identity and sense of self, and to develop talents and achieve success in using them. These are some of the developmental outcomes that denote social and emotional competence.

These achievements of social and personality development derive from the interaction of many social, biological, and representational influences. Consider, for example, the development of conscience, which is an early foundation for moral development. Conscience consists of the cognitive, emotional, and social influences that cause young children to create and act consistently with internal standards of conduct. Conscience emerges from young children’s experiences with parents, particularly in the development of a mutually responsive relationship that motivates young children to respond constructively to the parents’ requests and expectations. Biologically based temperament is involved, as some children are temperamentally more capable of motivating self-regulation (a quality called effortful control) than are others. In contrast, some children are dispositionally more prone to the fear and anxiety that parental disapproval can evoke. Conscience development grows through a good fit between the child’s temperamental qualities and how parents communicate and reinforce behavioural expectations. Moreover, as an illustration of the interaction of genes and experience, one research group found that young children with a particular gene allele (the 5-HTTLPR) were low on measures of conscience development when they had previously experienced unresponsive maternal care. Still, children with the same allele growing up with responsive care showed strong later performance on conscience measures.

The study of parent cognitions, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings can expand our knowledge of child development. Child-rearing cognitions influence parents to act either positively or negatively towards their children. These beliefs have been considered good predictors of parenting behaviour because they indicate the emotional climate in which children and parents operate and the health of the relationship. In sum, parents observe their children through a filter of conscious and unconscious thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes, and these filters direct the way they perceive their children’s actions. When the thoughts are benign, they direct positive actions. When the thoughts are accurate, they will usually lead to positive actions. When they are distorted and distressing, however, they distract parents from the task at hand as well as leading to negative emotions and attributions that ultimately impair effective parenting.

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Implications for Policy and Services

Most intervention programs for parents involve teaching effective strategies for managing children’s behaviour. But problems can also arise when parents engage in maladaptive thinking. Mothers at a higher risk of child abuse, for example, are more likely to attribute negative traits to children who demonstrate ambiguous behaviour and see this behaviour as intentional.16 Bugental and her colleagues have administered a cognitive retraining intervention program for parents which aims to alter such biases. They found that mothers who participated in the program showed improvement in parenting cognitions, diminished levels of harsh parenting, and greater emotional availability. In turn, children, two years after their mothers participated in the program, displayed lower levels of aggressive behaviour as well as better cognitive skills than those whose mothers had not undergone such cognitive retraining. These findings, then, clearly underline the important role played by parental beliefs in the child-rearing process.

As the preceding sentence suggests, social and personality development continues through adolescence and the adult years. It is influenced by the same constellation of social, biological, and representational influences discussed for childhood. Changing social relationships and roles, biological maturation and (much later) decline, and how the individual represents experience and the self continue to form the bases for development throughout life. In this respect, when an adult looks forward rather than retrospectively to ask, “what kind of person am I becoming?”—a similarly fascinating, complex, multifaceted interaction of developmental processes lies ahead.

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