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Nature vs Nurture: Do Children inherit Parents’ Unique Personalities?

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Daddy was an angel…

As I am now the mother of two girls, I find myself wondering if children inherit parents’ personalities and if so… whose personality will they inherit? Mine or their dads? It’s the classic nature vs nurture debate.

Whenever I hear stories of my partner as a child I hear nothing but;  “He was the sweetest little boy”, “he was never any trouble” and “always loving and kind”.  Well he’s 45 years of age now and I have to agree with those statements too.  He’s all of the above and more.  I wish I was more like him some days as he is so laid back, goes with the flow and never takes life seriously.  Basically the complete opposite of myself and maybe that’s why we work so well? The ying to my yang.

Mummy was an attention seeker…

Now, whenever you hear stories of me and my personality you will often hear statements such as; “You never stopped screaming”, “you always wanted to be the centre of attention” or my favourite “you were a brat Lynne”.  I’d like to say I’m none of the above these days.  Well ok, maybe I do still like being the centre of attention from time to time. 

My mum said she recognised that my toddler tantrums were mostly due to having a new brother and sister (twins) added to the family when I was 22 months old and frustration with my speech as it took me some time to converse with people.  Once I was able to communicate with others better, I was a much happier child apparently. I always say that I have my mothers temper but my dads temperament.

So basically, I can take a lot of aggravation but once I’ve had enough.. You’ll know about it. I’m also your classic, need middle child so have never been shy and always looking for attention in a crowd.

I decided to delve into this a bit further as our toddler is showing signs of a mixture of both our personalities and I was intrigued as to whether children are born with their personalities or if they are simply copying your mannerisms.  As I’m not an expert I have added the information below that I have found and will of course include the links for you to view in more detail.

child personalities
nature vs nurture
me and my dad
me and my dad way back in the mid 1980’s

Nature vs Nurture

The question of whether our genes influence our personality essentially boils down to nature versus nurture, one of the oldest debates in psychology.  We all know that our children inherit physical traits such as eye colour, hair colour, skin pigmentation and facial features but do they inherit personalities? Ffion is the image of her dad, whereas Ronnie is looking more like my side of the family.

Nature:

Now, as I said I have 2 daughters and I noticed straight away the difference in their temperaments from birth.  Ffion, my eldest seemed more active and alert very early on and would have many naps in the day.  Ronnie, my youngest is much more relaxed in her developments, a very happy baby who although sleeps throughout the night, does not nap for very long during the day (you can read more about Ronnie’s birth story here).

They are also very different in their physical growth milestones also. Ffion’s growth spurts were fast and furious, we were forever moving her to the next size clothing. By the age of 12 months she was well into her age 2-3 clothes. Now, at the age of 2 & 3/4 years of age she is already comfortably in age 5-6 year clothing (I will point out at this point that her dad is 6”6’, I’m 5”10’ and her 2 elder half-sisters are both over 6”2’ as grown adults). 

We automatically assumed that our second daughter would follow in the same fashion, but we have been surprised to see that Ronnie is following the growth charts for her age.  It’s lovely actually as we are seeing her in these beautiful clothes longer than we ever saw Ffion in them.

So, why do my two daughters seem to have different personalities if they have the same genetics? Well, firstly I thought I’d look upon my siblings and I.  I am one of four children (3 girls and a boy) and we are always being complimented on how alike we are, how we look the same and how even our voices are similar.  But as you can see below, we are a mixture of our mum and dad; short, tall, dark, blonde, slim and curvy and we have a mixture of dark brown, blue and hazel colour eyes. 

My Family

But, I will admit that our sense of humour, our laughs, our morals and outlook on life are very, very similar.  But I put that down to our good surroundings as children and our mum and dad, who were sticklers for good manners and a good working ethic.  We mimic each others voices, sounds, laugh, slang words, hand gestures and even our posture and I think that’s why people say we look alike? I don’t know, I’ll let you decide. Do we look alike? ha.

Professional Research

I was reading an article on the Family Education website on this topic and it stated that studies show personality traits can actually be inherited. They go on to mention that there are five traits that have a link to personality: extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness

However, the article does go on to say that experiences can also influence the eventual personality of a child, parental influence included. Which I’ll go into a bit further into this post.

Here is another interesting explanation that I came across on the BBC website Science and Human Body page;

Personality type is a bit like left- or right-handedness. Most people are born preferring one hand, and all of us are born with a personality type, which has some aspects that we feel more comfortable with than others. For example, a person who is introverted would relax by focussing on their memories, thoughts or feelings, while an extrovert would naturally concentrate on the outer world.

The left hand and right handedness topic intrigues me as in our family of 6, 3 are left handed and the other 3 right handed.  The 3 left handed members of my family are more relaxed in their approach to certain situations, keep things to themselves and are more level headed.  Whereas, the 3 right handed members tend to be a lot more anxious, routined in their lives (i.e. Like things done in a certain way and by a certain time) and if their plans are not going their way they become disgruntled (this is me by the way).  

brothers, siblings, newborn

Nurture

As discussed earlier, studies show children have five traits that have a link to personality.  It is still argued that experiences can also influence the eventual personality of a child, and their parents’ influence can impact them also. 

An article written by Ugo Uche in Psychology Today supports the notion that children are born with the five traits mentioned above, but the external influences growing up have a huge impact also. He says that ‘there is always an interaction between the genes of a person and the person’s experience. While personalities are certainly inherited, the behaviour of a child or teen is a result of how the child’s personality interacts with his or her daily experiences’.

My thoughts on this debate, with regards to my two daughters..

Ffion has always been an introvert, strong willed and determined.  She will not do something she does not wish to do and we have learnt that the art of distraction is the best step forward when it comes to dealing with her personality.  Myself and my partner are very loud, confident and playful people so we can see that she is starting to enjoy singing, dancing and playing more as a result. But this part of her personality is only kept for us as she is still very shy and reserved with others at the moment and that’s ok. We just want her to know that she can relax and be happy with her mum and dad.

However, with Ronnie (and I know that she is only 5 months old so still very early days) we are already seeing different personality traits.  She is showing signs of being a crowd pleaser already, completely aware that if she smiles at someone she will be repaid with smiles, coo’ing and cuddles and is on the whole a lot more relaxed.  Just like her dad.

Revisiting our parenting styles to suit our individual children

I had so many ideas of the type of parenting styles I wanted use when becoming a mum for the first time. I had aspirations of being that mum who would have patience, instantaneous ideas for fun games and activities and have time for one-to-one speech development, toilet training etc. There was also a list of things I swore I wouldn’t do too. I was going to be a firm, but fair mother. Oh how naïve I was. You can read more in my previous blog here.

It’s plain to see that we will have to approach our parenting styles differently for each of them as the information above shows… Our behaviour, parenting styles and personalities will have a big influence on our girls’ lives and we really want to make sure we do this correctly and hopefully help them enhance their individual personalities with confidence.  

It will hopefully save us so much work when they hit their teens (she says with a hint of doubt!).

The main thing for me is that I will look out for the five traits and establish what is best for each of my children.  Ffion may be happy to play in her bedroom on her own with her toys, so we will not ‘push’ her to make friends, join clubs etc… But I will offer these opportunities to her of course.

Ronnie may be a social butterfly, wishing to surround herself with others and again we will encourage and support this too.

Each child is different

Each child is different. Each child needs supporting differently and each child is amazing!! Whether it is nature vs nurture, all I do know is that we should enjoy our children as much as you can and help guide them on the path they wish to walk on!

My mother in-law told me a story once about how a neighbour was congratulating her about the birth of my partner, Phill and when she asked this neighbour who she thought he looked like, her response was “Phillip, he looks like Phillip!” and she told me that I should try not to compare my daughters to others in the family as they may look like them and have some their traits, but they will eventually have their own quirky personality.

brothers, boys, affection

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10 thoughts on “Nature vs Nurture: Do Children inherit Parents’ Unique Personalities?”

  1. So fascinating! I studied psychology and was always so intrigued about how some things are innate vs. learned. Studies on twins are especially fascinating!

  2. This was so interesting! I’m so curious how my future children will turn out 🙂 I think it’s a mix of genetics and environment. Most kids learn by noticing and mimicking their surroundings. Thanks!

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