The development of a child is influenced by a myriad of factors. The personality of the child shapes how the child will react and respond to their environment. Likewise, the environment in which the child lives influences those reactions. Parenting styles combine with child personality types to create unique and diverse outcomes. Alithe L. van den Akker of the Department of Child and Adolescent Studies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands wanted to get a better look at how specific personality types, in particular over-controlled and under-controlled, work together with parenting reactivity to predict childhood developmental outcome and behavior.
In a recent study, Van den Akker looked at the Big 5 personality traits of 429 children when they were 8 years old. The children were followed for six years and were assessed, based on parental reports, for personality traits and levels of externalizing and internalizing behaviors. They were classified as under-controllers, over-controllers, or resilients. Van den Akker also considered the level of maternal reactivity and how it shaped the responses of each category of child. The final analysis revealed four different adjustment trajectories, including well-adjusted children, those with externalizing problems, those with internalizing problems, and one small group of children with both internalizing and externalizing problems.
The results showed that children with over-controlling and under-controlling personalities did not have increased risk of increasing adjustment difficulties when compared to the resilient children. However, these groups of participants did experience more problem severity over time. Over-controlling children had more internalizing problems, especially when mothers had little over-reactivity. But under-controllers appeared to be at most risk for significant adjustment problems. They had more externalizing problems which led to more maternal over-reactivity, which in turn led to poorer adjustment. This cycle of difficult behavior through externalizing followed by harsh parenting is often evident in children who display impulsive or disagreeable behavior, and appears to perpetuate the externalizing behavior of children with issues like this, such as ADHD or oppositional defiance problems. Van den Akker added, “It thus appears that under-controllers are at double risk, both due to their personality configuration and due to the heightened levels of maternal over-reactive parenting they receive.” This dual risk makes these children especially vulnerable to negative psychological and behavioral outcomes and puts them at the center of future intervention efforts.
Van den Akker, A. L., Deković, M., Asscher, J. J., Shiner, R. L., and Prinzie, P. (2012). Personality types in childhood: Relations to latent trajectory classes of problem behavior and overreactive parenting across the transition into adolescence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031184
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