Your Child's Personality

The Torah tells us to "educate the child according to his way." That is, find educational strategies that work well with the child's inherent personality. The Torah acknowledges that kids are born with personalities intact and in fact, all parents have observed this for themselves. One child is born with a pleasant, relaxed temperament. Another is born feisty and fidgety. One is sociable, another timid and withdrawn. Inborn traits and temperaments may last a lifetime. Twin studies have verified that identical twins reared in radically different environments turn out to be very similar in terms of many traits such as their preferences, temperaments and inclinations. If so, what is the role of a parent? What difference does "good" or "bad" parenting make?

Factors Influencing Personality

The truth is that the environment of a person does have some impact on the developing personality. One's unique experiences impact on one's genetic make-up, yielding an effect that is actually an interaction between nature and nurture. Recent research coins the term "epigenetic" to describe this interaction. Genes can be turned on and turned off as they are exposed to different environmental factors.

So what are the environmental factors in question? The birth order of a child impacts on that youngster as does the city he is raised in, the community and culture he is exposed to, the quality of his parents' marriage, his extra-curricular and social activities, his experiences at school with peers, teachers and the academic curriculum and many other external factors – including the style of parenting you employ with him. The child's personal traumatic experiences (being chased by a dog or bullied by a classmate) and physical history (having a disability, disease or injury, experiencing medical interventions) will all affect his development. And let's not forget the child's own free will! His own thought and feeling process affects the workings of his genes!

Parental Guilt

Considering how many factors impact on the child's outcome and the fact that genes play such a major role, it is amazing that parents take full credit or full blame for the way their child turns out! For example, a child who has Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) who has negative experiences with teachers and learning, who is picked on and teased because of his social deficits (part of the disorder) and who suffers from chronic insomnia, anxiety and mood disorders (also part of the syndrome for many sufferers), may grow up to have low self-esteem, social issues, trouble functioning at work and troubles with the law (due to poor judgment and lack of ability to link actions to consequences (also part of the syndrome for some). His parents may have done a very good job of parenting and still the child may have many issues and challenges throughout his lifetime. His genes, his experiences inside and outside the home and his own free will come together to create his adult persona. Many parents, unfortunately, will blame themselves for their child's difficulties instead of realizing that theirs is only one part of the equation.

Similarly, a child born clever, ambitious and extroverted, who because of these strengths experiences many successes in all aspects of life and who, as the oldest in the family, receives tremendous parental attention and affection, may turn out to be valedictorian, popular and successful in every way in adult life. Her parent's pride in her accomplishments may be tinted with pride in their own parental practices. However, the truth is that their own contributions are only a part of a very complicated set of factors that determine adult outcomes. Parents plant seeds, weed and water them. G‑d determines whether the rain will fall and if so, whether the plant will prosper. G‑d can allow a plant to grow even while depriving it of every resource. Finished products are not in our domain.

Do the Best You Can

The job of a parent is not to "make a person." This is, as we have seen, is too ambitious, simply not possible for ordinary human beings. However, good parenting is always possible. Good parenting will help give the most positive impact to the gene picture and help mitigate the effects of negative experiences that the child will encounter growing up. Good parenting can only help. Parenting and prayer are in our department. We must do our part. Growing and learning are in the child's department. He must do his part. G‑d's individual guidance will provide a person with all of the experiences and conditions necessary for his ultimate development.