What Does Conscientiousness in Children Mean?

Why This Personality Trait Is a Positive

Elementary school students in class taking notes
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What does conscientiousness mean? Learn more with this definition. This is an important trait for children to develop if they're to grow into well-adjusted adults.

Defining Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is one of the five basic elements of personality, which are called the "Big Five" by psychologists. Someone who is high in conscientiousness tends to be on time or early for appointments. Such individuals are also highly responsible and work toward long-term goals with little or no supervision.

When a Person Is Low in Conscientiousness

A person who is low in conscientiousness may not come through on obligations. They may also tend to complete assignments hastily or not at all and often make impulsive decisions. There is, of course, a range of behaviors between these two extremes.

Low conscientiousness can have real-world consequences. It can affect a student's grades in class, affect their performance at work or even strain their personal relationships. People are routinely fired, for example, for showing up late to work or not completing tasks on time.

Having a Mixture of Traits Related to Conscientiousness

Ideally, everyone would be high in conscientiousness, but the reality is that most people are not at one end of this scale or the other. A person may be routinely late for appointments but need a little guidance to finish tasks. On the other hand, a person may be early for appointments but routinely fail to complete long-term goals.

A person's individual makeup or general disposition may determine how conscientious they are. Someone with low self-esteem or another psychological issue may find it difficult to work toward long-term goals due to fear of failure or fear of the unknown. Low conscientiousness in some areas doesn't mean someone is a bad person.

Parents, teachers, and other caregivers can also try to instill traits related to conscientiousness into children.

How to Encourage Conscientious Traits

Parents can encourage conscientiousness in children first and foremost by modeling such behavior. If children see their parents complete assignments in a timely manner, meet their longtime goals and show up on time for appointments, they can lead children by example to follow suit.

Parents can also use positive reinforcement to teach children conscientiousness. If your child has a tendency to be late, give the child an incentive to show up early rather than merely lecturing her on the importance of timeliness. It could be allowing her to watch television for 15 more minutes, giving her a break from a daily chore or another gesture you know she'll appreciate.

Some parents may need to step back and allow their children to prove to them they're capable of completing assignments and meeting longtime goals without your help. If you treat your child like she's capable, she's likely to mirror that behavior back.

Sometimes, despite a parent's best efforts, a child may still show a lack of conscientiousness, such as showing up late. Maybe your child is an artsy type who doesn't understand the importance of showing up anywhere on the dot.

While you shouldn't encourage her cavalier attitude about time, you might want to urge her to work in a field where she can work on her own clock. Let her know that any job that involves a time clock will be off limits to her until she can get serious about showing up for appointments or duties promptly.


Rathus, Spencer. Psychology: Concepts and Connections, Brief Version. 8th edition. 2007. Belmont, CA: Thomson, Wadsworth.

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