In the past, when most people thought of parenting, they pictured changing diapers, messy feeding times, and chasing a screaming child through a crowded grocery store. Considerable research was dedicated to such physical aspects of parenting (Siegler, DeLoache & Eisenberg, 2011). But today it is known that parenting goes far beyond the requirements for meeting the basic survival needs of the child and the ways that parents shape their children’s development have been a source of theorising by scientists, philosophers and parents themselves. Research indicates that just being physically present is not enough because as Volling et al. (2002) put it parents that may be nearby but that are not emotionally invested or responsive “tend to raise children that are more distressed and less engaged with their play or activities” (p. 468). Moreover, a study investigating the connection between parent’s investment and children’s competence suggests that the emotional involvement of parents really does matter and affects the outcome of their child’s emotional competence and regulation because parental warmth, lack of conflict, and control and monitoring appear to play an important role in children’s emotional development and shape their personality (Schofield et al., 2012). That’s why children of aggressive parents have a higher risk of being aggressive (Duman & Margolin, 2007). Although genetic factors are found to have significant influence on individual differences in parent-child relationships too (Abecasis et al., 2010; O’Connor et al. 1998; Whitfield, 2003), these studies show that parents and parenting styles affect children’s emotional development which, in turn, shapes their personality.
Before discussing the importance of emotional caring, it is important to underline the crucial role of physical caring in childhood. The physical well-being of a child is accomplished when his/her basic survival needs are fulfilled by caregivers. A healthy physical development can only take place when other basic needs are satisfied (Sallis et al., 1995).
While the benefits of physical activity and well-being in primary school children and adolescents are fairly well-established, much less is known about the benefits of physical activity and well-being in early childhood. Nonetheless, a growing body of research suggests that physical activity in early childhood may have beneficial health outcomes in both the short and long term (Peluso, Guerra & Andrade, 2005). In infants, allowing them to move around through (supervised) floor-based play regularly throughout the day is recommended. For example, tummy time (time infants spend on their stomach while awake) is a great way to help infants strengthen the muscles needed for later crawling and walking, and can provide children with opportunities for reaching and grasping (great for hand/eye coordination). When infants begin crawling/creeping/bottom-shuffling, the focus continues to be on floor-based play and on creating opportunities and a safe environment where they can move about freely.
Observational research has also shown physical well-being in early childhood is associated with better physical health (Parfitt, 1994). This includes a healthier body composition, and better bone and heart health, particularly when the physical activity is more intense. According to Owens et al. (1993), physical inactivity is an accepted antecedent to the development of childhood obesity and is implicated in numerous chronic conditions including poor cardiovascular and metabolic health among children. Furthermore, recent evidence suggests that physical activity in childhood is one of the most powerful preventive strategies in the fight against osteoporosis.
Moreover, physical well-being may also be important for children’s brains and social skills too. Studies have found favourable associations between the time children spend in active play and their management of their own behaviour and how well they get on with others (Sexton, Søgaard & Olstad, 2001). Others have identified that active movement breaks may improve preschool children’s attention (Harter & Pike,1984). In line with these studies, the past two decades have uncovered the beneficial relation of physical activity and other health behaviors on brain and cognition, with the majority of data emerging from older adult populations. More recently, a similar research thread has emerged in school-aged children, which offers insight into the relation of physical activity to scholastic performance, providing a real-world application of the benefits observed in the laboratory (Clark, 2005).
Although, physical health is quite important, psychologists think it is not as important as emotional development of the child because this affects everything from personality formation to general well-being in life (Caspi, 2004). It is now, a widely accepted fact that an important factor in the emotional development of children is how warm caregivers are, and studies have been done to find the effects of the psychology of mothers on the emotional development of children. GAP 1 Depressed mothers have maladaptive thoughts, attitudes, and behaviours, and these, along with being in a similarly stressful environment as the mother, put a child at risk of developing his own emotional problems (Sroufe 2001). The fact that depressed mothers are likely to be indifferent towards their children, put them in less social situations, and generally provide less stimulation for their children, puts the children at a disadvantage for achieving normal emotional development. Children see how their parents display emotions and interact with other people, and they imitate what they see their parents do to regulate emotions (Sheffield Morris et. al, 2007).
Also, a key aspect of emotional development in children is learning how to regulate emotions. A child’s temperament also plays a role in their emotion regulation, guided by the parenting style they receive. GAP 2 For example, children more prone to negative emotions or episodes of anger are deeply affected by hostile and neglectful parenting, often leading to even more behavioural problems (Belsky & Barrends, 2002). Difficult temperaments can become a bidirectional problem that evokes even more negative emotions from the parent if not monitored. Parents should be aware that not only do their own emotions and parenting style affect the emotional outcomes of their children, but if they are not aware of how their children’s tempers affect them, they could fall into a spiral of ineffective and indifferent parenting which further contributes to negative behaviours from the children.
Furthermore, how parents address the emotions of their children and respond to them affects how expressive the children feel they can be. GAP 3 Reacting with criticism or dismissing the sadness or anger of a child communicates that their emotions are not valid or appropriate, which can cause children to be more prone to those negative emotions and less able to cope with stress (Siegler et. al, 2011). Instead, guiding children’s emotions and helping them find ways to express themselves in a healthy manner helps them continue regulating their responses to challenges and even aids their academic and social competence. GAP 4 This sort of emotion coaching greatly helps in reducing future problem behaviour in children.
In addition to being able to express their own emotions, it is important in social situations for children to be able to identify and deal with the emotions of those around them. Parents model for their children how to comfort someone who is crying or smile at someone who is smiling, but other parental factors also influence how their children learn to understand the emotions of others such as the relationship between the mother and the father. GAP 5 It has been found that the interaction between parents affects a child’s emotional and social development, and marital conflict contributes to problems in these developmental areas (Sheffield Morris et. al, 2007).
Thus, in the light of the research, it can be said that parents shape the personality of children in many ways. However, admittedly, some psychologists claimed that genes play a greater role in determining key personality traits like social skills and learning ability than the way we are brought up by our parents. The three most common research methods in behavioural genetics are family studies, twin studies and adoption studies.
Family studies involve determining whether or not a trait runs in families. If a personality trait runs in families, it may indicate that there is a genetic component to the trait because children share 50% of their genes with each parent. GAP 6 For example, Jang (2005) studied how large the likelihood is that one relative of a person with a mental disorder will also develop the disorder too compared to the relative of a person with no mental disorder. He has found that bipolar disorder and schizophrenia share many similarities, from the average age of onset to the courses of the illnesses in relatives.
Twin studies involve an analysis of any differences between identical twins and fraternal twins. Since identical twins share 100% of the same genes and fraternal twins share only 50% of the same genes, identical twins should be more alike than fraternal twins if a personality trait has a genetic component. GAP 7 Olson et al. (2001) studied more than 800 sets of identical twins to learn whether genetics or upbringing has a greater effect on how successful people are in life. In that work, researchers calculated heritability estimates—in lay terms, the amount of variation in personality that is explained by genes—by examining personality similarity between twin pairs. For identical twins, heritability estimates hovered around 46%, and 23% for fraternal twins.
Adoption studies involve an analysis of similarities between biological relations vs. adoptive relations. GAP 8 Plomin et al’s (1997) argued that if a personality trait has a genetic component, an adoptee would show more similarities to their biological parents than adoptive parents. The study supported this idea and showed that the adoptees whose biological parents suffered from schizophrenia had a higher likelihood of schizophrenia or other related disorders.
Despite all this information, there are some problems in research studying genetic influence in personality. Firstly, we still do not know which genes causes certain disorders and personality traits. There are no specific genes responsible for the genetic influence
on personality. GAP 9 A recent meta-analysis of studies reporting data on associations
between genes and personality traits concluded there were only a few replicable
associations (Munafo et al. 2003).
Secondly, if a certain gene determines a certain personality trait, then, its genetic variants should predict behavior in a similar fashion. But this is not the case. GAP 10 For example,a study identified a gene responsible for infant shyness. However, research does not support this. A gene that is thought to cause shyness in infants, has not been expressed as shyness in other infants carrying the same gene (Daniels & Plomin, 1985).
It is clear from the brief summaries provided on twin, adoption, and family studies that human genetics is diverse in structure and can be researched on a case-by-case basis which cannot be generalised to all individuals. However, the role of parents in physical and emotional development is well-established. As, there is no doubt that physical and emotional development influences personality formation greatly, it is not wrong to argue that parents play a major role in personality development of the child. Still, it is important to note that further research should study the interaction between genetics and parent-child interaction to understand personality development better.