A recent study conducted by a group of Concordia University researchers found that the conduct and behavior of children on the playground may be a fairly accurate predictor of adult personality types. The study began in 1976 and asked students in grades 1, 4 and 7 to complete peer evaluations in terms of aggression, likeability and social withdrawal. In addition, student’s also evaluated themselves in these areas. The children were then monitored until they were adults some twenty years later. Then personality traits were measured such as levels of neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.
The study found that peer evaluations as a predictor of adult personality traits were far more accurate than any self-evaluation as a predictor of future personality traits. The peer evaluations of course were much more accurate than the self-evaluations because school offers a daily opportunity to observe and interact with fellow students. Children that were seen as being withdrawn grew up to be much more isolated or socially withdrawn. Students with high likeability as a child were more likely to grow up to be more agreeable and less neurotic. The researchers felt that these kinds of longitudinal studies could be helpful to school officials and parents in helping children that exhibit aggressive or withdrawn behaviors. The information could be used to promote more pro-social behaviors based on accurate feedback from their peers.
It is sometimes surprising when you ask children what they think of themselves or their personalities. At times some can be very hard on themselves while others seem to possess very little insight into their own behaviors. As an adventure programmer, I have had the opportunity to see how children function outside and inside the school. I have found that their behavior remains quite similar in both settings for the most part. The socially withdrawn child will be less available to step up to the new challenges presented by working on a challenge of a low ropes course. Often, they do not see themselves as leaders and seem to shy away from being the center of attention. At other times, these same shy children seize the opportunity to, if only momentarily, step into the role of leader. It is truly a joy to be witness to such a transformation; it seems that they are actually glowing as they lead their peers through an adventure challenge. If these experiences are repeated enough, some of these reluctant leaders will reposition themselves among their peers. There are many other experiences that can also reshuffle peer perceptions of each other. Occasionally I have encountered children that at a fairly young age seem convinced that their judgment is so superior to everyone else’s that they could never be wrong. One adventure game creates a roped off area that children enter into with a guide, and then they are blindfolded. What they are not told is that there is no way out and the point of the exercise is that is OK to ask for help. Once the child asks for help they are lead out of the maze. Occasionally, a child would follow the rope barrier around and when they found no way out they would repeat the same exercise over and over and over. Not surprisingly, these children were sometimes viewed as aggressive by their peers. On a few occasions, a child would never give up and even when asked if they would like help refused it. It is not difficult to imagine the challenges that this child might present to classroom management and to their peers each day. In fact, several children, when notified that the exercise was over, expressed regret as they might yet have figured a way out given more time. Go figure?
Remember, all kids count.
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