This Is the Biggest Thing Influencing Your Child’s Behavior

Spoiler: It's not you.
ByAnisa Arsenault
Associate Editor
Published
Feb 2017
two happy friends, one pushing the other in toy fire truck
Photo: Benicat

You introduce ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to their vocabularies as soon as possible. You instill the importance of sharing. But at the end of the day, you probably won’t be the biggest influence on the behavior of your children; their friends will.

A study by Michigan State University found that among preschool children, personality was shaped more by environment than by genes or parenting. And by environment we mean fellow preschoolers.

“Parents spend a lot of their time trying to teach their child to be patient, to be a good listener, not to be impulsive,” says Emily Durbin, study co-investigator. “But this wasn’t their parents or their teachers affecting them—it was their friends. It turns out that 3- and 4-year-olds are being change agents.”

You probably thought you had until at least the pre-teen years to worry about the influence of friends, didn’t you? The silver lining: This impact can be a good thing. According to the study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, children whose playmates were hardworking or extroverted became similar to them over time. And preschoolers who played with anxious and easily-frustrated peers did not take on these traits.

So even our earliest friends can bring out the best in us? Adorable. More research will be needed to further explore this impact; this study, which analyzed two classrooms over the course of a school year, was the first to look at personality traits in young children over time.

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