CHILD REARING AND PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT
by Paul Meier, M.D.
(Ages Three to Six)
A. Developmental adaptations during the preschool years.
During the preschool years, rapid development takes place in
the emotional life of the child, his socialization, language, and
reasoning ability, independence, and sexual identity.
Emotions play a very important part in the life of
preschoolers. In fact emotions frequently find expression more
freely in the preschooler than in many adults who have learned to
suppress them. At about three years of age, children have many
fears, fears of animals, fears of monsters, and even fears of
"the big bad wolf." They have trouble differentiating between
fact and fantasy, and need to be reassured over and over by their
parents. Between three and four years of age, they may express
their anger in the form of temper tantrums. If you give them what
they want after a temper tantrum, they will continue to have
tantrums all their lives. But if you grab them firmly by the
shoulders and tell them to stop it, of even spank them if needed,
their temper tantrums will cease, since they will serve no useful
function. Preschoolers also experience anxiety, jealousy,
curiosity, joy, and primitive forms of love.
Again, remember that people need people, and that adults
who don't have genuine love relationships with other adults do
not have good mental health - they have loneliness, emptiness,
purposelessness, and emotional pain. So teach your child to be a
social creature by exposing him to other children his own age,
especially of the same sex. Toward the beginning of the preschool
years (age three), the child will not interact much with other
children playing in the same area. This is known as parallel
playing. But soon they will be running around together and
talking to each other more. They eventually become less self
centered, and learn to feel empathy with others. Nursery
schools, if adequately staffed, can help speed up social
development. And two or three mornings a week away from mother,
at this age, will not only do the child some good but will give
the mother a little break. Gary Collins (Gary Collins, "Man in
Transition," p.50) states that childhood playing serves at least
four useful functions: (1) it permits discharge of energy; (2) it
provides needed stimulation; (3) it helps children develop motor
skills; and (4) it enables the child to act out and learn to
understand adult roles.
3. Language and reasoning ability.
Language and reasoning ability are areas of very rapid
growth between the ages of three and six. During these years, the
child adds thousands of words to his vocabulary, and begins to be
able to reason things out concretely. However, he continues to
live in a small world in the sense that he still thinks most
events center in some way around him, and that almost all people
see things the same way he sees them.
4. Increasing independencc.
During these crucial years, the child takes great strides in
becoming more self-sufficient. He learns to feed himself and
even cut must of his own food. He learns to dress himself, with
perhaps some parental guidance on what to wear, rather than how
to put it on.
He becomes completely toilet-trained, using the bathroom
when he needs and wants to, and cleaning himself afterwards. He
becomes less dependent upon the mother socially, as he begins to
make friends. In any Christian home, a boy's best friend,
especially during these three years, should be his father.
Christian fathers should spend much time with their sons and
daughters, but especially with their sons, and mothers with their
daughters. I have heard many fathers say that they think the
quality of time is important - not the quantity. And all I can
say to that is "nonsense." A large quantity of time is essential,
and if you can improve the quality of time during that large
quantity of time, that will be even better.
5. Solidification of sexual identity.
The main reason fathers should spend quantities of time with
their sons and mothers with their daughters during the preschool
years is that these are the years in which sexual identities
become solidified. Children need a parent of the same sex to
identify with and to model themselves after. Today, it's hard to
tell a boy from a girl, and that's not right. Boys should dress
like boys and girls like girls, and that applies to their hair
styles too (2. This does not mean, however, that girls should not
play in bluejeans, and things of that nature). Although no chores
are exclusively masculine or feminine, encourage your boys to
help daddy with his chores and your girls to help mommy with
hers. This will facilitate the sexual identification process. And
remember to praise your child primarily for the quality of his
behavior and character, not for his looks.
It is also during these years that most children go through
a stage in which they think that somehow they will grow up, the
parent of the opposite sex will stay the same age, and they will
somehow replace the parent of the same sex by marrying the parent
of the opposite sex. This is known as the oedipal stage, and even
though I think it was greatly overdone by Freud and others, it
has been documented over and over again in probably a majority of
children. That's why children this age should no longer sleep
with a parent of the opposite sex, a practice that is more common
than you would think, especially in one-parent homes. Continue to
give your children of both sexes warmth and affection, but try
not to be overly stimulating to them. When they were younger,
they could follow you around when you dressed, used the restroom,
and took baths, but now politely yet matter-of-factly wean them
off these activities. The children usually won't object a great
deal, and will react by demanding privacy themselves when they do
these things. They'll understand that it is just part of growing
I have seen many sons who were suffering front anxiety and
other problems because their mothers were unhappily married, or
no longer married, and had unconsciously made little husbands out
of them. I have also seen cases where this occurred between
father and daughter, such as in the case of hysteria I told you
about earlier. Children should also have friends who are of the
same sex. And when our children ask us questions about
sex-related things, the healthy thing to do is to answer them
truthfully and matter-of-factly without showing embarrassment.
Don't go on and tell them things they didn't ask for, but answer
their questions accurately and specifically. Teach them that
some things are talked about privately and done privately, but
don't become overly agitated about it. For instance, we shouldn't
allow our children at this age to run around in the yard without
any clothes on, but if our child is examining his genitals in
bed at night when we happen to walk in on him, the best thing to
do is ignore it, or politely ask him to leave his pajamas on.
B. The preschooler's role in the family.
1. Effect of birth order.
The role a child has within his own family structure will
greatly influence the development of his personality. While
there are definitely exceptions to every rule, especially in
psychiatry, there are also general trends which have been
observed in children who have different positions in the family.
This includes their order of birth. There are advatages and
disadvantages to being the oldest, a middle, or the youngest
child, and there are special disadvantages to being the only
child. Usually, more demands are placed on the oldest child, so
he becomes more of a perfectionist. As an adult, he is more
likely to achieve success in fife, but will probably enjoy it
less, and always wish he had achieved even more. 1 have already
mentioned that fifteen of the first sixteen American astronauts
were first-born. Second-born children, especially if teased by
the first-born, are sometimes more shy and polite, and try to
please everybody. From the third child on, children are
frequently less inhibited, more outgoing and extroverted, and
generally enjoy life more than the first-born, even though they
may be less successful. And the youngest child has a greater
chance of being spoiled, more dependent, and less mature,
depending a great deal on the maturity of his parents. Children
of older parents tend to be more serious-minded than children of
young parents. But again, there are exceptions to every rule.
Alfred Adler wrote extensively about positions within the
family and their importance. The Chinese have special terms of
address for persons of each position within a family, with
special status and rules for each position. A study of nineteen-
year old men in the Netherlands revealed that the first-born had
the highest I.Q. scores, and that I.Q. scores went very slowly
but definitely down as birth order progressed. The diffference
was not very great, however. Another study showed that menarch
occurs later in girls front large families than in girls from
Children also have various special roles within the family,
regardless of position, such as scapegoat, baby, pet, miniature
husband, and peacemaker. Unfortunately, handicapped children
some times become the scapegoat who is made fun of and rejected
by the other children of his family, especially if the other
children feel particularly inadequate themselves.
3. Roles parents play.
The different roles parents play in the family also greatly
influence the personality of each child growing up within that
family. One research study, including personality testing, was
done over a seventeen-year period on sixty-four young adults. The
project was carried out by Charles H. Rousell and Carl N. Edward
of Harvard University. Their study indicated that permissive home
atmospheres tend to produce neurotic (including hypochondriacal)
and psychotic disturbances, especially in female children. Cold,
permissive home atmospheres tend to result in sociopathic
personality disorders in young adult males. Cold, punitive homes
tend to result in the production of phobic and psychotic males.
Excessively warm, permissive homes tend to produce strong anxiety
and psychotic reactions in males.
4. General trends.
Other studies have shown that, in general, a weak father and
a weak mother, especially if physically and emotionally quite
cold, will develop children with schizophrenic tendencies. A
domineering mother and weak father will generally result in
various types of neurotic offspring. A strong-willed mother and a
strong-willed father will tend to develop overly rebellious
children. A weak mother and tyrannical father will tend to
produce insecure daughters and tyrannical sons. But a mother with
self worth, character, and genuine love, who is a co-leader in
the home, and a father who has self-worth, character, genuine
love, and makes the ultimate decisions in the home, will produce
mentally healthy children with self worth, character, and genuine
love for others.
5. Single-parent families: six million fatherless.
Another very serious problem in American society today is
the increasing number of single-parent families. They have
problems all their own, such as separation anxiety, grief, anger,
depression, loneliness, and sexual identity problems in the
children. Unfortunately, there are presently more than six
million children in the United States who are living in
fatherless homes (this was way back when this book was being
written - it is far more today in the 21st century - Keith Hunt).
An extensive study on 120 children from fatherless homes was
carried out by the Psychiatry Department of the University of
Florida. They found out that the parent-child relationships are
most impaired among "hard-core" fatherless children, meaning
those who have been without a father for two or more years. These
children are often psychotic or retarded, with severe pathology
and a fatalistic view of life. Children who have been without a
father for less than two years have fewer severe impairments than
the "hard-core" fatherless, but more problems than children who
There are so many Christian fathers who are failing in their
responsibilities before God that it makes me grieve. I can't
repeat enough the fact that a father's first responsibility from
God is his own family. All else comes in a distant second. Paul
said that it anyone does not provide for the needs of his own
household, he is "worse than an infidel" (I Tim.5:8).
6. Children of drug addicts.
Another rising problem in American society today is the
problem of drug addicts and the offspring they are producing. One
study showed that many babies born to drug addicts have with-
drawal symptoms at birth. Many need to be placed in foster homes.
Almost all of the children of drug addicts are reared in
fatherless homes, since most of the addicted fathers have
abandoned the mother and child. Multi-child families which fall
into this category are usually fathered by different men. Most of
the children neglected by their addicted mothers develop a
limited capacity for human relationships and have many other
permanent psychological problems.
C. Typical areas of concern regarding preschoolers.
Lets turn our attention to typical areas of concern
regarding preschoolers. These are everyday problems that we are
likely to face in our own preschoolers. I would like to discuss
both my own experiences and some research findings regarding
fourteen common problem areas for parents of preschoolers.
1. TV violence.
Psychiatric researchers at the University of Georgia
recently conducted a much-needed study on emotional reactions of
young children to TV violence. They showed three brief, violent
TV episodes to four-and five-year-old children while continuously
measuring the amount of emotional perspiration. The children were
also shown two non-violent films. As measured by their skin
resistance, the children responded more emotionally to the
violent episodes and remembered them better one week later. When
asked which of the five episodes (three violent and two
non-violent) they liked the best, they chose one of the violent
and one of the non-violent episodes, which happened to be the two
cartoons they were shown. The emotion involved with the violent
scenes appeared to be primarily fear. Violent scenes with human
characters aroused more fear than did violent scenes with cartoon
characters. The chilldren were able to recall twice as many
details about the human violence than about anything else they
saw. This implies a possible relationship between emotionality
and the storage and retrieval of information. I think the main
lesson we can learn from this and other similar studies is that
our children's minds, like our own, are in reality quite complex
computers, and what we feed into them is what will come out for
years to come. Television can be a useful thing, or it can be a
great hindrance to the emotional and spiritual maturation of our
2. Handicapped children.
A recent study appearing in the "British Medical Journal"
showed that "problems which children have with particular
handicaps may well in their turn specifically affect aspects of
their development and their parents attitude towards then." Other
studies have shown that handicapped children frequently become
overly dependent, passive, and somewhat withdrawn. They also
frequently learn to get strong secondary gains from illness -
which means that thier parents and others let them have their
own way because they feel sorry for them. If you have a
handicapped child, don't deny the handicap, but encourage his
independence. And don't pity him - love him and trust his ability
to overcome the handicap and to become a responsible individual.
3. How to treat twins.
About one out of eighty six births produces twins, and about
one thirde of these are identical twin. I think twins are a
special blessing from the Lord. But having twins also gives the
parents added responsibility. The American tradition is to dress
twins alike and to have them do everything alike, so they'll be
treated fairly. But studies have shown that this is not the best
thing for them psychologically. It's best to deal with them in
terms of separate individuality. Respect differences in their
tastes and opinions. Don't reward, praise, or punish them at the
same time, but do so individually. It is better it they wear
different styles of clothing, depending on their own tastes. It
is even recommended that they attend different classes in school.
4. More on bedwetting.
Bedwetting is a very common problem during the preschool
years. Statistics show that about 88 percent quit wetting their
beds by the time they reach Four and one-half years of age, but
about 8 to 10 percent will still be wetting their beds from time
to time when they reach six years of age, and about I to 2
percent even after high school graduation. As I mentioned before,
the best thing to do is have the child clean up his own bed, as
much as is possible, without unnecessarily shaming him. Treatment
methods have already been discussed.
5. More on encopresis (soiling).
Soiling, like bedwetting, can be expected in the preschool
years. I would encourage you to remember that the normal range
for neurological readiness for toilet-training is anywhere
between one and one half and four years of age. It's not
considered abnormal, therefore, unless the child is more than
four years old. If your child is over four and still soiling from
time to time, it would be best to get treatment for him,
preferably from a child psychiatrist, who will be best equipped
to handle such a problem.
Thumb-sucking has also been discussed to some extent. Let me
say here that it is considered normal, and that about 20 percent
still suck their thumbs even after their sixth birthday. However,
if your child is over six, and still sucking his or her thumb
regularly, it is usually considered to be a sign that the child
is experiencing some anxiety; family counseling would probably be
7. Nail-biting, nervous tics, and stuttering.
Don't worry about moderate nail-biting. About 20 percent of
college students still bite their nails. Nervous tics, however,
such as constant squinting of the eyes, various inappropriate
jerky motions, and constant clearing of the throat, are signs of
emotional conflicts requiring counseling, preferably by a trained
psychiatrist. Tics usually go away as the conflicts are
resolved? We also have medications, such as low doses of Haldol,
that will eliminate them within twenty-four hours. Haldol has
worked on my patients 100 percent of the time so far, but unless
the conflicts are resolved, the tics will return when the
medication is discontinued. Even lifelong stuttering in an adult
can be eliminated 60 percent of the time within about forty-eight
hours after taking low doses of Haldol. Stuttering in preschool
children is considered normal and should just be ignored. It
nearly always goes away by age six. The reason it is so common is
that during the preschool years, the child's knowledge and
vocabulary are increasing much more rapidly than his neurological
ability to get all those words and thoughts expressed verbally.
Becoming unduly excited about it only makes it worse, so just
ignore stuttering unless the child is over six years old.
8. Animal fears.
Animal fears are most common between the ages of three and
five. Again, they are nothing to worry about, but they do require
patience on the part of the parents who have to explain over and
over again to the child that the big bad wolf won't get him!
I've already said quite a bit about this subject. I would
advise strongly that you avoid obesity in your child at any cost.
It will greatly hamper his self worth, and limit the kind of
respect he will get from his peers. Elementary school children
are very tactless and will keep on broadcasting any defect they
see in other children. It's not right, but that's the way it is,
so let's deal with the problem realistically.
10. Warning: Daycare Centers may be hazardous to your child's
I think I have already said enough for you to know my
position on Day-care Centers, Basically, it is that some are all
right for short periods of time, but most of them are
psychologically damaging to a child who stays there five days a
week, eight or nine hours a day. If you do put your child in a
Day-care Center, be sure it has warm, loving, well-trained,
multiple mother substitutes.
Freedman, Kaplan, and Sadock's Modern Synopsis of Psychiatry
states that "inadequate facilities or personnel may be
destructive to the proper psychological growth and development of
children." I think Daycare Centers should be required by the
government to have that message printed over their doors, just
like the warning on cigarettes.
11. Nightmares and night terrors.
Nightmares and night terrors are also quite common in
preschoolers. Because there are many things that a three-to
six-year-old doesn't yet understand, he spends a large portion of
his sleep-time in dreaming. Therefore, most children will have
some nightmares or night terrors. Night terrors involve thrashing
around in bed and crying out some, but unlike nightmares the
children don't wake up. In fact, you may have a hard time waking
them up during a night terror even if you shake them hard. Most
children have them for only a short period of time; they go away
as the conflicts become resolved. Medications can be given to
eliminate night tenors during this period of time, but usually
aren't necessary. I would recommend that you keep a nightlight in
your preschooler's room, so he can see that there aren't any
animals or bogeymen. If your child comes to your bed at night
after a nightmare, he should be taken back to his own bed and
calmly spoken to a few moments. Sleepwalking is also common in
young children, and is nothing to worry about if they stay in the
house! Medications can stop this also.
12. The housing problem.
It might seem strange that I would list the type of housing
a person lives in as a preschool problem, but it is just that. We
lived in an apartment during college, graduate school, medical
school, and psychiatric training, but I don't recommend apartment
living for preschoolers or older children either for that matter,
and I have statistics to back up my personal prejudices. Douglas
Hooper found that apartment dwellers are more transient in their
occupations and life-styles and that adults and children who live
in private homes have much less mental illness than adults and
children living in apartment complexes. As I said, though our
family lived in an apartment, we moved into a house as soon as my
schooling was completed.
13. Childhood depression.
I have seen a number of cases of childhood depression.
Frequently it follows the loss of a loved object, a divorce, the
death of a parent, or the transfer of a father overseas. Weekly
counseling sessions usually meet with success. I also like to
facilitate counseling by using low doses of Tofranil, an
antidepressant medication, if the depression seems very serious.
Childhood depression is usually manifested by social withdrawal,
prolonged sadness, and either a marked increase or decrease in
14. How to reduce stress in preschoolers.
Stress is something people have at every age. Some of it is
good for us, and necessary for our psychological development.
Preschoolers have many adjustments to make, and are developing
rapidly between the dependent toddler stage and the independent
school-age stage. Simple events like going to Sunday School, to
the pediatrician or to the dentist, moving into a new home,
having a new baby brother or sister, can all be very stressful
for a preschool child. As a matter of fact, going to the dentist
is usually quite stressful for me! The best way we, as parents,
can reduce these stresses for our children is to prepare them for
these events by talking about them ahead of time in words that
children will understand. Always be truthful. It can even be
distressing for children to go to sleep at night, only to wake up
to find a strange babysitter there and their parents gone. We
always tell our children when we are going out, even if they will
be asleep before the babysitter comes, so they won't be
To be continued with "From age Six to Eighteen: General
Principles - Spiritual Development."
Entered on this Website January 2008