Instruction Manual for Kids: Shaping Your Child’s Personality

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Guest post by Rusty Rea


If you are new to this series, the premise is that YOU are the instruction manual you wish your child came with.  Inasmuch that you wish you had a handy reference on children, your child is looking to you for instruction.  The next topic I want to hit is shaping your child’s personality.

There are numerous schools of thought, and studies showing more data than I deem necessary, on the philosophical concept of ‘nature vs. nurture’.  Let us simplify for the sake of reality.  Not that analyzing data is bad; it just doesn’t fit the parenting model of most.  Simply put, it isn’t always necessary to know the motive behind every action – if it is ‘nature or nurture’.  If your child is misbehaving, correct them regardless.

As a member of the generation where my ‘feelings and emotional wellbeing’ trump objective reality, I can authoritatively assert that most of the parenting philosophies which became mainstream in the ‘90s are at their core anti-parent/anti-parenting/anti-instruction.  Any parenting model where your child (their emotions, attitude, feelings, gender, etc) can undermine your authority will ALWAYS result in a child/parent relationship where the child is in control (they are sneaky little rascals, and you will incessantly get played).

A perfect example can be found in the intro of Parenting in the Check-out Lane.  The example is of two separate children in the check-out lane of the grocery store. One child is calm and obedient and the other is throwing a fit.  In the example, gender is never revealed.  If one child was a boy and the other a girl, many parents would fall to the ‘nature’ philosophy and cave to a ‘girls-will-be girls-and-boys-will-be-boys’ conclusion.  To that mentality I say, ‘Nurture regardless of nature!’

This idea that crept into parenting that we must sit back and let our children blossom into maturity and our job is to do the least amount of ‘damage or hurt to their psyche’ is nonsense… Really it is… [Go back and reread that sentence].  Here you have children without a clue, a parent that is exhausted and confused, and a philosophy that says all a parent has to offer is hurt and devastation…

So, why such a long intro to such a brief point? Because to understand the reasoning of my point you need to understand the context in which it is made.

As a parent it is your job to shape your kid’s personality.


I don’t say that naively assuming each kid is a clean slate and all personality is dependant on you.  I say that, knowing that your child has a wonderful and unique personality which is buried under immaturity and limited social graces.  Like a gold nugget that needs all of the dirt washed off, then refined, and finally shaped and molded. Same gold – just finally molded into a purposeful shape.

We shape our kids by instilling our family values, disciplining them, training them, and teaching them.  When Kelsi and I correct our kids’ actions and attitudes, we also make them re-do the interaction and feed them the words they should have used, and we explain why…. For example, if #1 yells at #2: ‘You are doing that all wrong! Here do it this way!’  We rewind and explain to #1 that what they said came across demeaning and that they embarrassed #2.  Instead say, ‘Hey silly goose, can I show you something that might make this a little easier for you? I used to have a hard time with this too, so no worries.’ (ok, you get the gist…) Then we explain how that doesn’t embarrass #2, it actually helps teach #2 the right way and lets #2 know they are normal for having done it wrong on the first try.  By us doing different techniques and exercises like this we are showing #1 that we value taking others feelings into consideration and that we need to be aware of our tone because we can be unintentionally demeaning, and #2 knows that the entire family is watching out for her and that we are a safe place.   This now is the place where as we have built up #1 and set clear boundaries, so that #1’s personality can shine through  = and of course she can choose her own words – they just need to reflect the values we have as a family.

Our job is NOT to start from a position of retreat – where we are getting out of the way because we will damage their ‘nature’.  Our job is to nurture the nature, then step back just far enough to see if they need more guidance in their personality.

What are some tips or exercises you do with your family to shape your child’s personality?


This post was linked to Fresh Bites Friday at Real Food Whole Health, Monday Mania at Healthy Home Economist, The Homestead Barn Hop at The Prairie Homestead, Mentoring Mamas at Simply Living For Him, Better Mom Mondays at The Better Mom, Seasonal Celebrations at The Natural Mother’s Network, Women Living Well Wednesdays at Women Living Well, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways at Frugally Sustainable,  Your Green Resource at Sorta Crunchy, Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS

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5 Responses to “Instruction Manual for Kids: Shaping Your Child’s Personality”
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  1. As I’ve said before, I am the mom of 7- 3 were mine and 4 I adopted, and sometimes I get so caught up in the moments of “well he’s doing this because of what he’s been through”… one of my children has PTST because he was severely burned as a punishment for an accident in his pants. It makes it really challenging for me to constantly correct him because I feel like he lacked so much nurture in his little beginning. Excellent post. I’m really enjoying the site ya’ll are putting together more and more!

  2. Tiffany, Blessings on you as you work through the most gentle yet firm parenting you can for your brood. When kids see discipline done in LOVE, they will learn that they’re safe. So glad you’re a “regular” and love your site as well! Keep up the good work! – kelsi

  3. kimahall

    Hooray for parents that parent! Yes, it is hard work, but the results are so amazingly satisfying, and you help your children develop into decent, thoughtful individuals. And no, you can’t be their friend, not at least until they are true adult grown ups. 🙂

    I am constantly aghast at parents who are unwilling to parent. If I only had a dollar for every time I heard: Well, what can I do? I just have to give in to get him to stop screaming, having a tantrum, hitting, etc.

    We found Jane Nelson’s Positive Discipline book when our girls were toddlers and it changed how we parented to a consequence based system. I highly recommend it to parents.

  4. Very well said Rusty and I agree with you totally. We have an entire generation of lazily parented kids here in the UK with few social graces and low emotional intelligence. My husband and I are liberal parents, but have a clear framework within which the family is expected to function, there is much freedom within it, but the framework remains. It’s tougher to parent properly, but infinitely worth it and I can only speak for myself here, but what an amazing learning curve my life has been these last 18 years. We are all truly blessed to be parents, we owe it to ourselves and to our children to parent with intelligence. Thank you so much for sharing this with us on Natural Mothers Network’s Seasonal Celebration.
    Warmly, Rebecca x