April 11, 2006

When Do Kids Get A Personality?

You know how, when you look at a friend's baby pictures and with some of them, you're like, "Is that you??" But in a few, the person you know--not just the looks or the nose or the cheeks, but the person--is instantly recognizable? I catch myself doing the reverse of that all the time.

I'll be watching my daughter, trying to imagine what she'll be like when she grows up. And at certain moments, instants, really, I think I can see her. Of course, from this end of the kid road, you just never know, and so you ford ahead and stick around to see how they turn out.

Before the kid was born, and for a while afterward, I heard from several people that dads seemed to check out of the parenting process early on, and then they would re-engage "once the kid got a personality" or once they got "fun enough" or "old enough to do stuff with." The idea was that for the first couple of years, anyway, kids are unformed, undifferentiated, unknowable, just a bundle of reflexes and stimulus-response mechanisms.

[Why women would be better suited than men for dealing with such a creature, and are thus the automatic choice for taking care of newborn babies is beyond me---and if you say "breastfeeding," I say "breast pump" or "breast pimp," either way. But that's not really--or directly--my point at the moment. ]

Other theories go that once they clear the "fourth trimester," that post-birth transition to the outside world, and they start interacting with the now-in-focus outside world, kids' personalities start to manifest--or form, or develop, or whatever it is that "personalities" do. I don't know.

But my wife decided before the kid turned one that she'd like to take some birthday portraits, the same format every year--black&white and head-on, in our case--to create a consistent thread through the kid's visual record of her life. So we stuck her in the high chair and set her against the wall last February, and then did the same thing again this year. We just chatted and played with her as my wife snapped away.

The outcome was startling, and it really caught us--or me, anyway--off guard. Not for all she'd changed and grown so dramatically over a year, but for all she'd stayed the same. We'd been under the impression that, over the last year, the kid really became a "person," an "individaul," with a [very strong] sense of personality and identity. But across hundreds of photos in two batches, the gestures, the eyes, the facial expressions, the mischief, the flashes of 4-, 5- and 15-year-old behavior were clearly visible when she was one. The only significant difference I can see is that we didn't have as clear a sense of them--and of her--ourselves. We were waiting to see growth that was already happening right in front of our eyes.

Is a lot of this obvious? Yeah, and it's even more obvious in hindsight, which is my point. The idea that you can just wait for your kid to get interesting, and then you'll step up and get to know them better is bunk. They may be interesting now/finally, but the reality is, they were probably just as capable and interesting a year before; the only difference is a year has gone by.

[Thanks to Karen at Blogging Baby, whose post about discovering two nearly identical photos of her daughter, taken a year apart, got me off my butt to write about this.]


Kids develop their personalities much earlier than most folks think. This became readily apparent to us after the birth of our second child.
Ask any parent with more than one child and they can tell you that at birth the children responded differently to the same sets of stimuli and that by 3 months or so (when they started socializing) their little personalities become more and more apparent.

BTW, how exactly does one define interesting? Able to smile back and coo or able to beat you at your favorite video game. What a crock.

PS we have taken an identical photo yearly up until school age. Then the school photos make a good time line.

Kick butt post. I love the stroller and gear stuff of course, but some of your best stuff is when you're just writing about your family and the kid, and I'd love to see more of it.

(PS: Forgot to listen to Moses last night, but I did go on a really odd mental tangent wondering what the theme songs of what other celeb babies would be, and only got as far as "Weird Science" for TomKat's spawn before I figured this was a road best left untrod.)

I agree with Mark about the post and how some of your best writing is when you're just pondering "out loud".

Looking back on it now, I noticed a difference in my sons' personalities during my [second] pregnancy. But I didn't give it much thought until the second son was a few months old and the difference in their personalities was by then OBVIOUS. So, I think even during pregnancy, there are signs as to what the child's personality will be, all you have to do is pay attention.

thanks to my obsessive compulsive dedication to photographing odin, it's easy to see his personality shining through. some of the traits were easy to spot within days of his birth 15 weeks early - e.g. mister serioso and his smile which we saw after only 16 days.

Wow, everyone's writing to say what a great post that was, which is what I was going do to!

I started a little project when my preemie twins came home from the hospital: I tooka Holga camera (cheap chinese plastic camera with medium format film) and have been taking a picture of them in their cribs each month since. That means that next month I will have two rolls filled with their first year of life. I'm hoping it will have a similar effect.

As far as personality is concerned, it definitely manifests itself early. With identical twins, we feel like we're living out some science experiment, and from early on, we could see a difference in our girls' temperment, disposition and physicality. A has always been super smiley, while L is a bit more tentative. Nothing has changed now that they turned one.

I'm looking forward to my next year of their lives.

I think the best bits are when they start being able to express themselves.

Our son tells silly jokes, is obsessed with tunnels and public transit and church bells and generally behaves like some kind of preschool version of a colour commentator.

It is just grand.

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