The elements of the personality develop rapidly during the first years of life.
The concept of personality development can be described as the vital process through which every individual passes where certain bases and guidelines of character and behavior are established from which the traits, values and forms of functioning organized and stable in the time of that person.
These mechanisms become a reference for the person in their interactions with the context (environmental or physical and interpersonal or social) in which they usually operate.
Thus, development is understood as the result of the bidirectional confluence between more biological or internal factors ( genetic inheritance ) and other contextual or external factors (environment). The former includes temperament, which is defined by an intrinsic and innate emotional and motivational disposition that mobilizes the subject for primary interests.
On the other hand, environmental factors can be classified into common influences (externally originated norms, values, social and cultural beliefs) and personal influences (experiences and particular life circumstances of each subject, such as illness).
It can be said, therefore, that as the subject matures biologically and incorporates new experiences and external experiences, the process of development of their own personality takes place. In what way does this personality development occur during childhood?
Affective development in early childhood
The most important phenomenon that characterizes the affective development of the child in the first years of life is the formation of the attachment or emotional / affective bond established between the child and one or more reference figures (usually subjects belonging to the family system, although it may not be in all cases). Attachment is made up of three elements: attachment behaviors, mental representations, and feelings generated from the previous two.
The main function of the elaboration of the affective bond is both to facilitate an adaptive development in the emotional area, which allows the subject to establish future functional and adequate affective interpersonal relationships, as well as to ensure a balanced general personality development. Without this support, children are not capable of establishing the emotional ties necessary to develop all their skills.
At the same time, attachment creates a context in which children can learn and explore their environment feeling safe, which is essential to discover their own capacities. These kinds of discoveries will shape their attitudes and a part of their personality, depending on whether they feel more or less competent in the areas in which they normally live.
The process of attachment formation
In the process of attachment formation, several phases can be distinguished depending on the distinction that the baby is learning to make about the people in his social environment. Thus, in the first two months, his inability to discriminate between attachment figures and other people motivates him to feel a good predisposition for social interaction in general, regardless of the person in question.
Starting at 6 months, this differentiation becomes more pronounced, so that the boy or girl shows his preference for the closest figures of affective proximity. At 8 months, the “eighth month anguish” phase takes place in which the baby shows his rejection of strangers or people who are not part of his closest attachment circle.
With the consolidation of the symbolic function, at 2 years of age, it is able to internalize the permanence of the object, even though it is not physically visible, which enables the consolidation of the affective bond. Subsequently, the child begins a stage characterized by a constant search for approval and affection from the adult, experiencing a certain emotional dependence and again showing a good predisposition for general social interaction.
Finally, between the ages of 4 and 6, the child’s interest is focused on his relationship with his peers, which strengthens the beginning of the socialization stage in environments other than the family, such as school.
The conquest of autonomy
The acquisition of the capacity for autonomy takes place in the early childhood years of the child, once the process of self – concept has begun to consolidate (as differentiation from other subjects) and the affective dependence of the adult to orient yourself to experiencing the world independently.
When discovering that they can interact following the first notions of internalized norms, values and beliefs (not always coinciding with that of adults understood as a learning model) from early life experiences, their motivation is oriented to govern their behavior based on their own decisions. Thus, a phase of constant ambivalence is generated between the need to depend on the adult and the search for autonomy with respect to him, which can lead to the manifestation of tantrums or other behavioral alterations as a sign of the intention to preserve his independence.
This is a delicate process, since added to the fact that the little one can be very difficult to handle, it requires the adult to set strict and clear educational guidelines on the appropriate development path to take. This is one of the fundamental ideas to highlight in relation to the development of the autonomy of the child.
It is important to remember that there must be a balance between the increasing freedom of action that the child is adopting and the permanent role of guide and orientation that the attachment and educational figures that the first has to play.
Another fundamental point lies in the relevance of the environmental context in which the individual develops, which molds and considerably influences the process of acquiring the indicated autonomy. Therefore, each individual has their particularities and a universal pattern cannot be established that explains this process in a general way. Like most aspects related to the development of the person, it is characterized by its individuality and by qualitative differentiation with respect to other subjects.
Children’s self-awareness, self-esteem and self-worth
The beginning of the acquisition of self-awareness or self-concept is intrinsically related to the achievement of the phase of cognitive development of object permanence. The child internalizes that he remains as the same being in different moments or situations thanks to the proliferation and linguistic development that occurs from the second year of life. From that moment on, the subject begins to see himself as being different from other individuals and to recognize his own ideas, values, beliefs, feelings, interests, and motivations. In other words, she begins to relate the environment in which she is situated with her self.
This is a process that begins at this chronological moment; therefore, this differentiation and establishment of individual identity is not complete at all times and despite the fact that the aspects that are inherent to their person (personality) are assimilated, it is possible that some cognitive and / or emotional processes occur in a unconscious.
Thus, it is a process by which what others express and what one interprets from their actions forms an image of oneself. In turn, this image is associated with a moral assessment of it, which makes it more or less positive depending on the expectations and preferences of the child.
The role of self-esteem in boys and girls
With the appearance of self-concept, its evaluative component, self-esteem , arises simultaneously . Self-esteem is a phenomenon that is very closely linked to the achievement of balanced and adaptive psychological development. For this reason, if the evaluation that the individual makes about his own value as a human being in interaction with the more cognitive aspects and qualities related to self-concept is positive, this fact will act as a protective factor in the future in the prevention of intense emotional alterations, difficulties at a psychological level and, to a greater extent, problems in social interaction with other people.
It is very relevant that there is not a very high discrepancy between the real self (what the individual represents) and the ideal self (what the individual would like to represent) to consolidate an adaptive and adequate or balanced psychic and emotional development).
Another fundamental aspect is the role that external evaluations play on the level of self-esteem that each subject presents. Thus, the image that others have of oneself and the assessment they make of their skills or behaviors have a significant influence on the child’s perception of himself.
From the third or fourth year, the adult’s search for approval would be related to this issue, since this motivation is carried out with the ultimate purpose of establishing an acceptable level of self-esteem. As mentioned above, conflicts may arise at this stage, at the level of oppositional behaviors of the child before educational figures and other adults, derived from the contrast between adult protection and the child’s search for autonomy. Therefore, a fundamental aspect to take into account is the educational style that parents exercise on the child.
An educational style characterized by a balanced combination of control / discipline / authority and affection / understanding seems to promote a high level of self-esteem and, furthermore, a lower probability of tantrums and oppositional behavior. In this way, it is essential that educators understand the importance of the progressive increase of autonomy on the part of the child and that as his maturation as a human being takes place, the exhaustive control of all those decisions related to the child should be gradually diminished.
Are personality, character, and temperament equivalent?
Although these three terms have been used in an undifferentiated way, the truth is that they are not conceptual equivalents. The definition of personality as a disposition or set of stable and permanent traits that guide behavior, reasoning and emotional expression in a generic way, would encompass both the concept of temperament and that of character.
That is, both temperament and character are elements that form the personality interacting together. They cannot be isolated individually, but they help to understand our behavior patterns globally and in all areas of life.
Temperament refers to the innate emotional and motivational predisposition whose manifestations are due to biological or hereditary origin, more primitive. It is a considerably stable phenomenon over time and is subject to a lesser extent to ethnic or cultural interference. On the contrary, character, of a more cognitive and intentional nature, derives from environmental and cultural influence and is the product of external life experiences.
- Irwin G. Sarason, Abnormal Psychology, Misfit Behavior Problem, Seventh Edition.
- Neil R Carbon, Physiological Psychology, Mexico publisher third edition.
- Galileo Ortega, JL and Fernandez de Haro, E (2003); Encyclopedia of Early Childhood Education (vol2). Malaga. Ed: Cistern.
- Delval, Juan (1996). Human development. Siglo Veintiuno de España Editores, SA