Dear Doctor, 

Our two young children are as different as daylight and darkness. While they are both still young, they are not alike at all. Our son is 8 and our daughter is 6. He is thoughtful and slow to speak or act. She, on the other hand, is talkative, quick to do what she wants, and knows her mind even when it’s not appropriate. Do behaviors come as inherited? Both children are ours, but we wonder where their differences come from.

Curious

Dear Curious,

Children come as their own package of likely behaviors.

There was a time in behavioral and educational theory that it was believed the mind was a tabula rasa (blank slate) on which could be writ whatever a parent ordained. That theory is not widely accepted today.

Think about it. As you consider your friends and neighbors, do you not have an amazing range of gifts and variability in behavior? Isn’t this what makes our species so rich and different? All human behavior is on a curve. Some have less of a trait and others more. Many are average with one trait or another.

Trait psychology is here to stay. Any parent or grandparent will tell you children come with unique and sometimes welcome or unwelcome behavioral tendencies and styles.

For example, in the same family, one may see one child who is giving and unselfish. Another may make Scrooge look generous. Why? The unique inheritance of different neurologies and consequent traits results in variability. What would the world be without variance? It would be colorless indeed.

Now comes the troublesome part. Some traits are much less desirable than others. Thus, it is important to consider a basic trait and the life experiences of any person. The difference between a great artist and a destructive force is less than we might think.

How to enhance the positive and not reinforce the less desirable is, in my opinion, the consummate skill of an effective parent. That will be the topic of another column. 

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, email him at lrryllrsn@CS.com.

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