Man is a biological as well as a social individual. His actions throughout life are determined by the inherited potentialities (biological components) as well as forces in the societies.
Developmental Psychology (DVP) is concerned with the unfolding of life from within the zygote beginning at conception till birth and from birth till adolescence. It is also concerned with understanding what forces in the environment that influence the unfolding of human life, determining their pattern of influence and recommending ways of controlling and minimizing the harmful forces so that human development may be enhanced.
DVP, emphasizes the historical antecedents of human behaviour and is concerned with the interplay of maturation and social influences as people advance from childhood to adulthood.
Below is a brief discussion of some major factors affecting the child’s personality development: Genetic or Heredity Factors, Environmental Factors, The Nature/Nurture Controversy, Parental Factors, School and Peer factors, and Cultural factors.
The question of whether a given personality trait shared by a parent and a child is being genetically inherited or imparted by the parents to the child (through social interaction) has been widely researched. Result from several studies on fraternal and identical twins suggest that heredity plays a major role in determining an individual’s personality. Although, identical twins have identical genetic make-up, larger samples of identical twins ranked closer in several scales of personality assessment than fraternal twins. Even when identical twins are reared in various environments, they were more alike in personality characteristics, suggesting the strong influence of heredity on personality development.
Environmental factors can either strengthen or weaken the child’s character and innate ability to achieve. For example, a child’s achievement is closely related to his/her environment and heredity. In a social environment where achievement is not recognized and reinforced, the child is less likely to develop his/her innate ability to achieve later in life.
This is an age long attempt to determine which is more dominant in development, nature (biological) or nurture (environmental) factors. While Plato argued in favour of innate knowledge and abilities, Aristotle stressed that learning takes place through the five senses. Aristotle proposed that at birth the mind is a tabula rasa (a blank slate) on which the environment writes. John Locke in his views described the newborn’s mind as “white paper” void of all ideas. Locke proposed that all ideas are from experience. This concept is similar to the one proposed by Aristotle. Watson, the founder of behavioural psychology also believed that development is shaped by the environment, like clay in the hands of the sculptor. He was radical in the claim of the superiority of environment over nature in development. His belief that children can learn anything they are taught is explicit in his popularly quoted statement:
Give me a dozen healthy infants, well formed, in my own specified world to bring them up in and I will guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant chief, and, yes even beggar man and thief regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocation and race of his ancestors.
Despite the intrigues involved in arguments proposing these views, it is a common knowledge among psychologists today, that there is an interplay between nature and nurture.
A good example of this interplay is observed in language development, children will only speak a language they are exposed to, they cannot speak any language without the necessary guidance.
It is thus obvious that the human brain cannot accomplish much without the input of nurturance. In other words, the presence of a biological apparatus without the necessary environmental factors cannot achieve much.
Parents are the most significant factor in a child’s life, because they serve as role models for the child. Parent’s personality, attitudes and character influence the developing child. Hence discordant and quarrelsome families produce aggressive and delinquent children.
Neglected children get easily frustrated, aggressive and have poor self-concept and a negative attitude to life.
Mother/Child Relationship
A mother is the most important person in a baby’s life for physical and social development.
The health of the mother during and after pregnancy is very crucial to the development of the child. The mother’s health, emotions, diet, intellectual ability affect the characteristics of the child. Mothers should practice exclusive breast feeding in the first six months  of infants.
A study of a group of infants raised by their natural mothers showed that the level of the child’s emotional and intellectual development was directly related to the amount and quality of his/her interaction with the mother.The father’s closeness to the child is also important in the development of a normal personality.
The family size is crucial to child development. Studies have shown that homes with large families have difficulties in taking good care of their children, in terms of provision of adequate balanced diet, drugs, when sick, and amenities like reading room sleeping room playground and school materials. It is a well known fact that sometimes a family of eight sleep in a one bedroom apartment.
In the past Military Administration (1985 – 1993) of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida attempts were made to introduce the idea of four children to a home.
Parental style refers to the various methods of bringing up children and such styles for child up-bringing include: Permissive style, Authoritarian style and Democratic style.
Permissive: Here, child rearing is carried out with freedom for the children to grow up within their choices, with little attention, and emotional support from parents.
Children reared by permissive parent exhibit poor self-control and poor social skills. They lack respect for others and often impulsive and immature
Authoritarian: Parents in this category demand unquestioning obedience, do not entertain dialogue, are detached and aloof and work on a template of “do as I say”
Children of authoritarian parents are easily upset, moody and aggressive.
Democratic: This is not common in Africa, but is practiced in other parts of the world, such as Europe and America.
However, in Annang, Ibibio, Edo, Efik, Igbo and Yoruba cultures of Nigeria, parents sit their children around in the evenings and teach the customs of the tribe through, folktales, folksongs proverbs, riddles and the like. From these tales by moonlight children will learn what is good for them to do, and shun evil, through relativity.
The school environment and the peer group generally have significance influence on the intellectual, emotional and social behaviour of the child.
Through the school, the social norms of the society are imparted on the child to enable him/her adjust in the larger society.
A healthy teacher-pupil interaction will help in the realization of expected discipline and good conduct among pupils.
Children who relate well with the teachers are more confident and progressive.
The influence of the peer group on social development and personality becomes more glaring as the child becomes an adolescent.
The culture in which a child grows up determines to a large extent the child’s personality make up. There are different child rearing practices in various cultures and subcultures, and these have significant effects on the child’s personality development.
In some cultures and social classes, children are breast – fed longer, weaned and toilet-trained at a later age compared to other cultures. In addition, in some cultures, parents will use physical punishment to discipline while others will rely on reasoning and other methods.
All these variations in techniques of child rearing/practices account for the observed differences in personality traits among children.
So far, we have seen that children stand the chance of being relatively susceptible to some traits of parents, therefore a lot of teaching should be offered to the child to help him acquire the necessary skills for life. Parents should avoid quarreling, fighting and the likes, as these are capable of hindering joy for the growing child.
Cultures grow and develop just as human beings do. The success in child rearing depend on how consistent parents are in teaching children the right thing to do, and at the right time.
The school and the home should work hand in hand to ensure the smooth transition of the child from home to school.
Parents should provide adequate health care for their children. Balanced and adequate diet should be provided to maintain a healthy nutritional status.
A lot of factors affect the development of the child. The process of development is continuous, gradual and orderly. The various aspects of development are interdependent and influenced by heredity and environment.
Development may be accelerated or retarded. Good management and care of the child is crucial to a life long healthy status. Despite the fact that mothers are the major care givers in the home, they should be supported by fathers by lending a hand now and again; because “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”
Research Fellow II, Institute of Child Health, University of Benin, Benin City
Edo State, Nigeria

‘CHILD HEALTH AND YOU’, a Weekly Thursday Feature, is a collaborative initiative between the Institute of Child Health, University of Benin, and the Bendel Newspapers Company Limited (BNCL), Benin City.
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