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Personality Formation in Action: An Observation of a Toddler Who Wants to Interact with Others but is Ignored

Personality Formation in Action: An Observation of a Toddler Who Wants to Interact with Others but is Ignored

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Published by Jane Gilgun
We often wonder why we are the way we are. This article gives some hints. So much of what forms our personalities happens when we are very young and our brains have not matured enough to store memories. Furthermore, we don’t have the wisdom to interpret life events until we are older.
This article reports on an observation I made in a public park of a toddler boy who persistently tried to interact with others and was rebuffed almost every time. No one had time for him. I don’t know how multiple rejections will affect him, but his experiences on this sunny summer day are now encoded in his brain circuits and will affect his expectations about how other people view him.
We often wonder why we are the way we are. This article gives some hints. So much of what forms our personalities happens when we are very young and our brains have not matured enough to store memories. Furthermore, we don’t have the wisdom to interpret life events until we are older.
This article reports on an observation I made in a public park of a toddler boy who persistently tried to interact with others and was rebuffed almost every time. No one had time for him. I don’t know how multiple rejections will affect him, but his experiences on this sunny summer day are now encoded in his brain circuits and will affect his expectations about how other people view him.

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Published by: Jane Gilgun on Nov 12, 2009
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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11/12/2009

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Personality Formation in Action:An Observation of a Toddler Who Wants to Interact with Othersbut is Ignored
Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW
We often wonder why we are the way we are. This article gives some hints. So much of what forms our personalities happens when we are very young and our brains have not matured enough to store memories. Furthermore, we don’t have the wisdom to interpret life events until we are older.This article reports on an observation I made in a public park of a toddler boy who persistently tried to interact with others and was rebuffed almost every time. No one had time for him. I don’t know how multiple rejections will affect him, but his experiences on this sunny summer day are now encoded in his brain circuits and will affect his expectations about howother people view him.
IT WAS A BRIGHT SUNNY DAY
in a county park. A large group of people, rangingin age from 91 years to 23 months, had gathered for a family reunion. The women and the older family members sat at tables in the shade of a pavilion with cold drinks in front of them, whileabout 11 children, nine boys and two girls, played games with their parents, almost all fathers,with one grandmother. The children ranged in age from 23 months to about eight.I noticed Liam [not his real name] right away because he was the youngest. He had blonde hair with straight bangs, chunky legs, baggy blue denim shorts that hung below his knees, blue plastic sandals, and a read tee shirt with
 Hardy
in navy blue letters across his chest.
 
IMH: Observation 1: GilgunPage 2 of 2
He was standing on the side lines about five feet from a row of fathers who wereinstructing five pairs of children about how to get ready for a three-legged sack race. He watchedthe other children and then walked over to them while they were putting their feet into the whitesacks. Liam’s father whom I will call Jack, who had light-colored hair and wore kaki shorts anda dark green polo shirt, walked over to Liam, took his hand and led him away from the children.Jack, like Liam, was well-built and somewhat chunky. When they got back to the row of fathers, Jack let Liam’s hand go. Liam looked at his father’s face and touched his father’s leg.Jack ignored Liam as he shouted directions to the children about the three-legged race. Liam puthis thumb and index finger in his mouth.
 
IMH: Observation 1: GilgunPage 3 of 3
Reflection
 Liam seemed to want to be involved but did not understand that he should not stand in front of the children who were about to do a three-legged race. He wanted some interaction withhis father and made a couple of bids but his father barely noticed and basically ignored Liam. Liam may have been soothing himself over the failed bid when he put his fingers in his mouth.
Someone shouted “Go” and the children were off. Liam ran along side of the childrenwho were hopping toward the finish line in their race. His gait was that of a toddler, not quitecoordinated, but coordinated enough so that he was moving faster than his normal walk. Liamobviously wanted to be involved in the game.He walked to a pair of children who had finished the race and looked up at them. Theyignored him. Liam put his thumb and index finger in his mouth and wandered away. A thinolder boy, about eight, took Liam’s hand and led him to the sidelines. Liam stood there for a fewseconds and wandered toward his father who was surrounded by other adults and a few kids.Liam could not get close to this father.Liam stood on the sidelines watching the older children get ready for a paddle and golf  ball race. The object of the game was to hold the golf ball on the paddle and walk 25 feet. Liamwatched and walked with a child who was trying to keep the ball on the paddle. When the ballfell off, Liam, being closer to the ground, picked it up. The older boy plucked it from Liam and put it on his paddle. He said nothing to Liam, and in fact did not seem to notice Liam at all.Liam put his fingers in his mouth and walked toward the pavilion. He had a very seriouslook at his small face. He walked over to a lanky older man in shorts and polo shirt who wassitting at a table talking to another older man. The lankly man, who was Liam’s maternalgrandfather Tim, picked Liam up and placed him on his lap. Tim caressed Liam’s leg with histhumb. He kept talking to the other man and did not talk to Liam. Liam snuggled his back into

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