Long before a child makes friends, has a first boyfriend or meets new co-workers, her social circle is primarily made up of her family. While you might want to think that all family influences are positive, sometimes there are also negative ways in which mom, dad, brother or sister can can affect a young child. And when you think about your toddler or preschooler, you may worry, because — you want the best — no matter what.
Nature and Nurture
Is it nature, meaning genetic factors, that makes it seem like your preschooler is your mini-me or is it how you are raising her? The long-running question of nature versus nurture isn’t easy to answer. While some of your child’s personality, such as a shy demeanor or gregarious way of becoming the center of attention, you may want to chalk up to as biology, many traits or facets of your child are learned. These influences — meaning the nurture aspect of nature vs. nurture — can shape your child in both positive and negative ways. For example, a mother who shows constant kindness and caring to her family may foster a sense of empathy in her child. On the other hand, a parent who yells and verbally chastises her child presents a negative influence.
Parents aren’t the only family figures who provide positive and negative influences on a young child. Siblings can also help to shape a child’s personality, impact how she behaves and even lead to new likes and dislikes. Brothers and sisters can equal built in best friends that help a young child explore the complexities of the social world within the comfort of their own home. The flip side of this type of positive experience is the negative aspect of sibling relationships: Sibling rivalry. A preschooler may show jealousy for a new baby brother or a toddler may get aggressive when her sister tries to pay with her favorite toy. On top of rivalry, an older sibling who misbehaves may all of the sudden seem ‘cool’ to your preschooler who now wants to act just like her not-so-great acting sis.
Family doesn’t always just mean he people who live in your house or are closest to you. Outside of mom, dad and the kids, don’t forget the extended family such as grandma and grandpa or aunts and uncles. Extended family can provide an extra layer of social influence for your child. Cousins and other child relatives can almost figure as surrogate siblings for only children, providing positive influences as role models as well as a sometimes negative impact when showing off bad behaviors.
Sometimes family is much more than those who are biologically related. Step-parents and step-siblings can bring new influences, both positive and negative, to a child’s life. While the picture of the evil fairy tale step-mother is painted on many adult’s minds, a step-parent can share different values, beliefs or even rituals — such as holiday or cultural celebrations — with a young child to add a positive influence. Likewise, a step-sibling can bring new beliefs or attitudes to a young child.