When Does Your Child’s Personality Develop? Experts Weigh In

When Does Your Child’s Personality Develop? Experts Weigh In

When Does Your Child’s Personality Develop? Experts Weigh In


By: Laurie Sue Brockway

We see the evolution of the human personality every day -- in our own children, and on social media feeds filled with adorable babies, toddlers, and teens hitting some of their most significant milestones. And we watch it develop as kids interact with adults, or with other kids at school and on the playground, and when they grab a musical instrument for the first time or win at sports. But when is your child’s personality really developed? We asked a couple of experts to weigh in.

First, what is a personality? It is essentially a combination of temperament and a collection of habits, responses, and ways of thinking a person uses to navigate through life. Maybe your child is introverted and shy or the extroverted life of the party at the playground. Experts say you can begin to see the personality developing early on in life -- maybe as early as 4 years old -- and anything can happen to shape it.

Deborah Serani, PsyD, psychologist and author of Depression and Your Child: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers, says there are many myths about this topic. She agrees the personality is constantly growing and evolving but believes it is essentially in place by a certain age. “Personality is something that does begin in childhood but continually develops toward maturity into adolescence," she says. "So, to answer your question, personality is fully developed in adolescence.”

Serani explains there are many factors that shape the personality, including parents, culture, and a child's life experiences. It may even begin in the womb. “It can be argued that personality actually begins before birth, with each parent’s genetics influencing the development of temperament -- a behavioral response style," she says. "After birth, a child’s prewired temperament, personal, and social experiences will set the stage for personality development. It’s the old adage: nature/nurture.”

Ganz Ferrance, PhD, a psychologist with a doctorate in counseling psychology and a master's degree in developmental and educational psychology, says we can see the inklings of a personality very early on, but he has a different view about when it is fully formed.

“A child can have a fairly developed personality -- or at least personality tendency -- by 7 years old, or even earlier, by 4 or 5 years old,” he says. “But the personality continues to evolve throughout a person's lifetime. So in reality it is never really ‘fully developed' in that it is always being modified to some extent. Changes occur in response to experiences, training, and as a person matures.”

“Recent research has shown that your personality continues to evolve pretty much throughout your lifespan,” he goes on. This evolution is “even more evident in people who are consciously engaged in self-improvement and personal growth -- reading, therapy, coaching, spiritual training, etc. Events and experiences, and how you interpret or process them, also continue to shape you.”

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Another element that can change the course of personality development is a traumatic event. An accident or illness, a death or disaster, or some other trauma will have a significant disruption and can affect the child’s personality. In some cases it is devastating, and in others, getting through difficult times makes a person stronger.

“This is why parenting is an enormous factor in the mental health of a child,” says Serani. “Loving, supportive parenting creates security, and security can help keep a child’s psyche intact even if trauma hits.”

Even though those first smiles, laughs, and words are not the ultimate sign of personality development, and that tantrum in the supermarket does not mean your child will be a difficult adult, it is important to nurture children through each stage. Life’s milestones build upon each other and become a part of personality development.

“The takeaway here," Serani says, "is for parents to realize that each and every baby is a unique human being with a temperament from birth that’s readily observable, and with a personality that’s slowly developing with each and every experience.”

When do you think you noticed the first signs of personality development in your child or children?



Laurie Sue Brockway is a journalist and author who has written extensively on love, marriage, parenting, wellbeing, and emotional health. Her work has appeared in hundreds of print and online publications, including Everyday Health and The Huffington Post.

Image ©iStock.com/JackF

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