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But they have the same parents! Well....

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

...not exactly. We know that children born to the same parents may favor one another in appearance, facial characteristics and/or body type, and that the basis for these types of similarities is genetics. However, when it comes to children’s personalities, it can be a very different story. Many parents are quick to share that even though their children may have similar physical characteristics, their personalities are as different as night and day. How does this happen when children are raised by the same parents, in the same household, with the same family values? The answer may lie in some research-based revelations regarding environment.

An important finding that has emerged during the last fifteen or so years indicates that it may be the environment, rather than heredity, that has the ‘greater’ influence on personality, psychopathology, and cognition. Psychologist and geneticist, Robert Plomin, contends that environmental influences can result in children from the same family being as different from one another as children randomly selected from the general population. Although unexplored territory remains, the research implies that the manner in which the environment influences psychological development is actually quite different than what psychologists once thought; that it is not so much the similarities that children experience within the family structure (social and religious values, family routines, etc.), rather those experiences that are unique to each child.

Important to note from the research is the very real possibility that it is the differences children not only experience but also perceive within the same family that influence behavioral development - and that the possibly subtle environmental differences experienced or perceived by children in the same family are the factors that drive (environmental) behavioral development. Even small differences in siblings’ perceptions of their parents’ treatment can lead to large differences in their development. Whether systematically or randomly, differentiation occurs. The resulting uniqueness of each child's personality supports the sentiment that each (child) is, in a sense, born into a “different family.”

Though this particular research seems to put greater ownness on the environment, the findings remain a piece of the bigger puzzle. Personality involves both genetic and environmental components. Infants come into the world with certain characteristics, physical and otherwise. Mothers of multiple children attest to observing differences in temperament and other personality traits in early infancy. Though clearly there are numerous and varied factors that can have a profound influence a child’s personality development (i.e., trauma, learning disability, speech and/or vision impairment, developmental delay), to dismiss or negate the possible impact of any viable factor would be remiss.

Parents do not always respond to their children in exactly the same way because they recognize their children's differences and perceive them differently. Fair is not always equal. Well-intended parents do the best they can with the knowledge they have at the time. Even with the best of intentions, differing parental responses to children may or may not always be on target. Nonetheless, in light of the unfolding research, increasing parental awareness and understanding of how children’s experiences and perceptions impact their development may lead to adjustments that can yield positive benefits, particularly for a child who may blame his or her shortcomings solely on the parents.

©Sharon Knapp Lamberth, September 2022


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