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The Influence of the Family on the Child’s Personality Development

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In the first years of life, the child’s world is limited to the family. The mental view of a small child, its interests, desires and needs do not cross the narrow family circle. In this small group, the child gains first experiences about people, about their relationships, about life and its problems. It also acquires basic impressions about oneself, about one’s personal value, about one’s position within the human community. The first experiences are also the most important. They leave the deepest trace in a young person, because they act on them while they are still completely raw, very receptive and very sensitive to everything. That is why the first life experiences create the basis, the starting point of the entire psychic development of a person. On them, the individual builds their attitudes towards life; they are the foundation of a very complex building called the human personality.

Importance of the Family as the First School for a Child

For a child, the world is its family, but smaller, and at the same time it is a world under mitigating circumstances. In this environment, man always finds help and protection. Here, the child is not yet required to bear all the difficulties of life on its own and to only take care of its own survival. With constant support and protection, the child is given the opportunity to practice for independent living in the family. The family is the first and most important school for a child. The knowledge acquired in public schools can always be acquired later. But a positive attitude towards life, towards oneself and the people around a person, is difficult to acquire in later years if one has not started to build it already at the beginning of life in the family. The curved track is difficult to correct when it sinks a little deeper into the ground. Thus, it is harder for a person to get rid of negative attitudes towards life in the community the older they get.

The child builds its personal attitudes towards the world and its problems through a process of continuous learning. It is at first quite unconscious in nature and later it becomes partly conscious, at the very least.

Process of Identification in a Child’s Learning

The basis of learning, the very basic mechanism of this event in a young person is the process of identification. In doing so, the child unconsciously takes adults as a role model, imitates them during the day, but does not dwell on it. Identification is a deeper process than imitation itself. It consists of the fact that the child identifies with its role model, finds itself in it, experiences their emotions as aspirations, thoughts and decisions it considers its own. In this way, the component of the adult personality, its characteristics, attitudes, and forms of behavior are transplanted into its own personality, turning them into elements of its own individuality.

The Influence of Emotional Connection on Identification

The younger the child is, the more the identification is stronger, complete and deeper, i.e. the less critical it is of its role model. When a child becomes able to think about the characteristics of its educators and the essence of their individual acts, it no longer receives the influence of adults as directly as before. Now the child increasingly chooses the objects of its identification, it is more and more critical of them, so in choosing the characteristics it will take on, it can make a certain choice. At the same time, the child imitates more and more consciously someone’s behavior, follows someone else’s experience or receives someone’s instruction.

The process of identification never completely stops in life, not even when a person grows up. Every learning, vocational training and professional development is based – at least in part – on identification with an older, more capable and experienced person. But identification makes it harder for a person to do so, that is, the stricter the choice of its object, the more intelligent the person who identifies with a role model, becomes. Yet the critique of the spirit has in man a counterbalance in his emotional connection with the object of identification. That is why the child identifies more closely with parents and other educators, the more positive its emotional attitude towards them is.

When a child loves its educators, when it respects them, when they impress it and when it has full confidence in them, it is very likely that it will incorporate into its personality many of their traits as they are. Then we talk about the positive identification of the child with the environment, regardless of whether its contents are positive or negative characteristics of the educator. By identifying with the adults around it in a positive way – a child can become diligent, kind, sociable, enterprising, etc. But in the same way it can develop into a lazy, grumpy, withdrawn, disinterested being if it lives among lukewarm, passive and pessimistic people.

A defiant child, who is in constant opposition to the environment because it does not trust its educators, because it fears them or even hates them, is likely to go through a negative identification with them in the process of learning life attitudes. This means that it will, admittedly, take on their characteristics, but it will unconsciously turn them into their opposite, regardless of whether they are in themselves positive or negative. A child of very ambitious parents, despite its good intelligence, can become quite a bad child; or the child of emphatically honest and strictly moral parents develops into a cheater or a sexually deranged person. On the line of negative identification, of course, useful traits can also be developed; e.g. the frivolity and superficiality of the parents’ life may encourage the child in particular seriousness in solving life problems, if during its development it showed constant emotional resistance towards its parents.

Harmful Effects of the Lack of Opportunity for Identification

It is a very harmful fact for the mental development of a child if there is no one to identify with. This most often happens to children who lose their parents very early, lose their families, and are accepted by a children’s institution. There, children are treated in a more or less official way, no one is particularly interested in them, so the process of identifying such children with the adult environment is too slow and incomplete. Without some emotional connection to the object, identification cannot take place in a normal way. There is no parental love in children’s homes, so there is no full-fledged identification. It should be taken into account that among educators and child caregivers there are sometimes people who do not have much sense of working with children, or are not even able to imitate parental love. Such knowledge does not help much either; it remains unused if emotional coldness or emotional constipation does not allow the educator to apply it in a full-fledged way.

In children’s homes, too many children come to one educator, to one replacement for parents: ten, twenty, and even more. No family has that many children. That is why educators in the home and with the best will and education cannot replace parents in an adequate way. They cannot deal with all their pupils in an equally intense way. If one is given as much attention, time and love as the average parent would give them, the other children will be deprived. To prevent this from happening, educators strive to treat their children entrusted to them equally. But then they don’t deal with any of the children enough, so they are all deprived of emotional warmth.

There is another reason why a child in a home cannot identify enough with their caregivers. Educators take turns, none of them are with the child all day, and they often change jobs. The rule is that the identification process cannot proceed normally if the adults around the child change frequently. The child has to live with the same people for many years in order to be able to get completely close to them, to enjoy with them and take parts of their personalities into themselves. If educators change frequently, the child must begin anew with emotional adjustment each time, and this significantly slows down and damages the identification process.

All children in a family do not always have the opportunity for sufficiently intense identification with the adult environment. This happens when parents do not love their children, when they are a burden to them, or the family neglects the child, does not deal with it, is not emotionally interested in it. In such a situation, the child does not have enough emotional contact with educators to take them as a model of their behavior, so it doesn’t develop mentally better than children in homes.

The lack of an opportunity for identification in early childhood seriously impairs the formation of a young person’s personality. In such circumstances, the child cannot build a strong, resilient enough and independent “I”. It often remains very pliable, suggestible and hesitant in its attitudes towards the environment, lives in the present moment, takes little account of the experience of the past and does not care much about the future. When an adult finds it difficult to control and discipline its instinctive desires, it finds it difficult to delay their satisfaction, so it often behaves impulsively, without enough control. Emotional life remains usually poor, primitive, without higher, more subtle feelings; social awareness remains stunted, ethics poorly developed, and the ability to adapt and cooperate in the community minimal. These are all character traits that are typical of psychopathic personalities. Upbringing in children’s homes and emotional neglect in the family often form psychopathic personalities.

Generalization of Life Experiences in a Child’s Psyche

Through identification with educators, the child acquires their positive and negative traits. At the same time, the process of generalization works in its psyche. This means that the child generalizes many experiences, creates general conclusions based on individual experiences, transfers its attitudes towards certain situations in life to all its life problems, and extends its relationship from individuals in its environment to all the people around it. The generalization of basic life experiences is more intense the more frequent and numerous the experiences on which it is based and the stronger the emotions that accompany them. If in later childhood and adolescence they do not change under the influence of strong opposing experiences, generalized attitudes continue into adulthood and become more and more entrenched in the child’s psyche as an essential component of personality.

The process of generalization is especially intense in early childhood when the child receives experiences predominantly in an emotional way and undergoes little or no rational analysis. This happens at a time when the child mostly lives with its family, so its experiences of living in that community are the most important content of the generalization.

The content of generalization of family experiences from childhood:

  1. The personality of educators. If they are healthy and balanced personalities, the child gains trust in them, and later extends it to other adults with whom it has no direct experience yet. If parents and other educators are sick, neurotic or even more severely disturbed, the child is afraid or defiant of them, and even acts with fear or aggression towards other adults, even if they do not deserve such a reaction from the child, because they have healthier personalities than its educators.
  2. The educator’s procedure with the child. When parents treat a child in an authoritative way or caress it and give in to it in everything, the child already expects such an attitude towards itself from other authorities, such as teachers, educators in children’s institutions and others. Then in this way it adjusts its behavior; if the new authority behaves differently from those to which the child is accustomed, it is taken aback and has yet to adapt to the new situation.
  3. The position of the child in the family. If the child feels fully accepted in its family, if it experiences parental love, it will feel safe. Then it is likely that in other environments the child will perform with confidence in itself, openly, naturally and without fear. On the contrary, a sense of neglect or redundancy in the family will make the child distrustful, intimidated and withdrawn, or aggressive and defiant. It will also expect antipathy, underestimation or unfair treatment of other people, so it will behave in a repulsive way everywhere in advance.
  4. The relationship between educators, especially parents. Emotional relationships among adult family members, and especially among parents, are the starting point of children’s perceptions of the relationship between people in general, and the relationship between the sexes in particular. Using these experiences of only one, small human group, the young person adopts certain attitudes about the essence of life in the community and about their perspectives in later life with regard to their gender. A harmonious relationship between parents, their mutual respect, cooperation, and equal relationship is a significant incentive for a young person to look with optimism at the possibility of building a healthy society and to establish a successful marriage and a happy family. If a person enters their own married, family and social life with many prejudices, suspicions or fears, which burdens them with living with neurotic parents, they will behave in these communities in an unnatural, timid, neurotic way. In relation to their spouse, to their children or friends at work, they will apply a number of defense mechanisms that will prevent them from emotionally recovering, being loved and thus experiencing satisfaction and achieving happiness in life.
  5. In the behavior of an adult, it is regularly observed that they take a certain attitude towards strangers in advance, that they are immediately kind or unfriendly to them, warm or repulsive, helpful or restrained, confidential or closed. Only later, when the new acquaintances get to know each other better, does the behavior towards them change, once in terms of greater trust and better adaptation, the second time in the form of disappointment and withdrawal. But the real reaction is always spontaneous, automatic and more or less unconscious.
  6. In certain situations, people react spontaneously in a certain way before they can even think about what to do. When they are faced with a task, some are collected, others are afraid and cannot cope, they have to make a decision, some are determined, others are hesitant; when faced with a danger, some grapple with it, others try to escape it, etc. All of these are largely the result of the generalization of various acts and behaviors adopted in childhood. When a person becomes accustomed to some form of reaction in a given situation, they adhere to it even when it is no longer entirely justified. If, for example, a child is afraid of a burden that it does not feel like an adult and tries to remove it, then it is a natural and justified reaction. But it is no longer normal for an adult to run away from tasks they can do. Yet they often do so, although there are no longer objective reasons for it, because over the years they have become accustomed to such behavior and have generalized it more and more.
  7. The effect of the generalization of early life experiences is also manifested in the life views of a person. People often express certain attitudes towards a profession, vocation, ideology, marriage, children or the opposite sex, even when they do not really know what they are talking about, or have no experience of their own. Thus, many individuals already find a profession interesting or boring before they learn anything in detail about it. Either they are convinced of the correctness or erroneousness of some scientific theory or philosophical setting without understanding their essence. There are often people who, although still very young and inexperienced, are sure that marriage cannot be happy, or that children cannot be raised properly and the like.
  8. All these attitudes towards certain life problems can, of course, change during life. Generalization and identification are not omnipotent or absolute factors in the formation of a young personality, although they play a very important role in mental maturation. It happens that a young person comes into contact with another person that becomes a stronger object of identification for them than before. If that person has different or even opposite traits from previous role models, it may happen that the new identification suppresses the old one. Thus, a teacher or other educator, or a slightly older man or girl, can relate emotionally more closely to a child than a parent. Then the child with such a pattern will be able to identify more strongly than before. It is understandable that they will then change their behavior. The re-education of children and youth is based on this fact. In their attitude towards the environment, they will take a more positive path than before only when they begin to identify with a person who is healthier and more constructive than previous educators.

What also remains unchanged is the effect of generalization. If a person acquires emotionally strong colored experiences that are contrary to their previous generalizations, they will probably change them, that is, they will take them as a basis for different, more positive or more negative generalizations than the previous ones. It happens that a young man enters an independent life with the belief that contact with women carries a number of dangers for men, so they should be suspicious of them, they should not be trusted too much, they should be kept at emotional distance or put under their control. Such a general attitude toward women is probably the result of negative experiences about their own mother, sister, or some other female family member. However, maybe one day a young man will sincerely fall in love with a full-fledged girl who will return his love without restriction. Experiencing love and happiness is likely to change opinions about women, as a beloved girl will become a stronger basis for generalization than a once unloved mother.

The results of generalization and identification can also change in a negative sense. Although they identify with very positive personalities in the family, the young person sometimes falls under the influence of a person with negative traits, so the positive consequences of earlier identification fade, and are replaced by negative results of a new identification. Yet such a course of personality development is less probable, or at least the turning of the young person into the negative is milder and shorter the more firmer and healthier the objects of their earlier identifications were. The same goes for the generalization process. A person who has entered life with a strong confidence in people and with a strong will to cooperate with them in a constructive way, can begin to withdraw into themselves and become skeptical of people if they experience disappointments in them day by day. But they will endure it longer in the process of adjustment of their negative personalities that were more emotionally emphasized than their previous positive experiences about family members.

The process of identification and generalization are intertwined, so it is impossible to determine how much a character trait is a consequence of one or another event in a developing personality. One example from everyday life will show how strong their effect is. A young woman, an only child, completely identified with her mother and completely took over her aggressive attitude towards men. In addition, she generalized many years of experience with her father, whom she always underestimated. During her childhood, she suffered intensely because she could not respect her father because he did not impress her. Experiences of his intellectual, moral, and social inferiority were always accompanied by strong emotions of resentment, antipathy, and hatred, and provoked a very persistent generalization. A young woman has entered the life of an adult man and even into marriage with the unwavering belief that all men are essentially less valuable, amoral and antisocial beings who cannot be sincerely loved. Consistent with this belief and literally mimicking her mother’s aggression, she was a true married Xanthippe, which of course deprived her of any opportunity to build a happy marriage.

From all of the above, the duty of the family is clearly the proper shaping of the young person. The family should be the best possible school for life. It will successfully solve this task if it provides the child with the most positive examples of behavior in life, solving life tasks and attitude towards the community. The family is obliged to encourage the child to constructively solve life’s problems, to gradually burden it with increasing duties and responsibilities that are in line with the degree of its physical and mental development. Thus, the child will develop the ability for self-initiative, for independent activity, for enduring difficulties and failures. The family should create confidence in children and in other people, to raise them with love, to respect their individuality and to understand their personal needs and preferences. Only in this way can sociality be built in a person.

It is a big mistake when family members tie the child too close to each other, then it becomes dependent and incompetent outside the close family circle. But it is just as bad when the family rejects the child from themselves when they do not love it and neglect it. In both cases, the child will later be unhappy because it is likely to develop into an unstable person. The child adapts well to family life in itself, and later successfully copes with other communities, if the family accepts it as its equal and full member. The child has not only rights but also duties in the family. Giving it only rights and not burdening it with any duties means pampering it, pushing it into the path of sick egocentrism, lack of independence, parasitism and social irresponsibility. Assigning a child only with duties means acting authoritatively, and the child will become timid, defiant, aggressive and incompetent in the face of life’s problems. It is the task of the family to find a balance in that.

The basic rights of the child in the family are regular and proper nutrition, housing and clothing, the opportunity for peaceful sleep and for undisturbed play and learning. The child has the right to be gradually allowed to increase its independence, to be supported in its initiatives, to be allowed to experience its own value, to be provided with the company of other children, to be sent to school, to be engaged in family life, to allow it independent decision-making and choice of activities and to surround it with emotional warmth, benevolence and love. But the duties of a child in the family are no less. It should be required to accept the discipline and order of family life, to respect other family members and their rights, to cooperate in the family, to help others, to show understanding for their needs, to learn to take responsibility and give up its own desires when it comes to the interest of the whole family.