Are Some of Our Children’s Behavioural Traits Genetically Conditioned?

Sometime back I was having a chat with my SIL and she raised a very interesting question relating to childhood behaviours that I wanted to put out there for discussion.

Here’s the question that triggered it all:

“Have you ever seen a Japanese child acting out or throwing a tantrum?”

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t. I’ve never seen a Japanese child screaming or wailing in public. In restaurants, they sit down to their meals and don’t drive their parents into a frenzy trying to woof down their meals, feed the screaming baby, and get out of the restaurant all in under 30 minutes. If you’ve seen otherwise, feel free to correct me, but it does seem like the majority of Japanese children are generally pretty well behaved.

Why is that? What’s the secret?

Here’s another question:

“Have you ever seen a Japanese mother raise her voice? Have you ever seen her scream at her kids?”

I don’t know about you but my answer to this question is also “no”. In fact, I have never seen a frazzled Japanese mother in despair about her toddler who won’t stop running around. Their children walk beside them and hold their hands when in public and when they stop to look at things, the kids stay put.

Children are children, right? Even the best of them require the occasional reigning in, right? So what is it?

So here’s a radical theory my SIL put up – genetic conditioning of behavioural traits. There isn’t a lot of conclusive research on this topic and it is still largely speculative at best, but it is interesting nonetheless.

When hubby and I went to Japan for our honeymoon, I was in awe of their culture. Everyone was so courteous and polite. It was a breath of fresh air after coming from a country where manners seem to be a long forgotten thing. It almost seemed as if it was bred into their culture.

We know that certain behaviours are instinctive – we’re born knowing how to react without being taught. Does it seem that far-fetched, therefore, that other behaviours might also be genetically encoded in our DNA?

Have you ever noticed mannerisms in your child and thought that they are so reminiscent of a particular family member? For example, Aristotle’s gait follows his father’s. Given that I am the one he spent most of his time during his early years with, shouldn’t he have picked up his mannerisms from me? And yet, he walks like his father. Another example that my other SIL noticed was that Aristotle has a habit of rubbing his first toe against his second toe which is something that my brother does. Having lived with my brother for years and years, even I was not aware of this habit of his. Neither do I have this habit myself.

Coincidence or genetic conditioning? I wonder…

And does this conversation sound familiar?

Daddy: gosh he’s stubborn!
Mummy: yeah, he’s just a chip off the old block!

We may never know just how much is inherited and how much is learned, but it is an interesting philosophical discussion isn’t it? Perhaps it is also another reason to console ourselves with regarding our children’s persistent behaviours.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

2 thoughts on “Are Some of Our Children’s Behavioural Traits Genetically Conditioned?

  1. Yes, this is an interesting question/idea. A friend of mine, who is Estonian and remembers her own upbringing one of peace and order has told me she is thinking that it is the fiery Middle Eastern blood in her children (her husband is from Syria) that makes them so emotionally explosive and in need of seemingly constant movement. I don’t know about this, but it could play a part.


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