It has been reported that borderline personality related characteristics can be observed in children, and that these characteristics are associated with increased risk for the development of borderline personality disorder. It is not clear whether borderline personality related characteristics in children share etiological features with adult borderline personality disorder. We investigated the etiology of borderline personality related characteristics in a longitudinal cohort study of 1,116 pairs of same-sex twins followed from birth through age 12 years. Borderline personality related characteristics measured at age 12 years were highly heritable, were more common in children who had exhibited poor cognitive function, impulsivity, and more behavioral and emotional problems at age 5 years, and co-occurred with symptoms of conduct disorder, depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Exposure to harsh treatment in the family environment through age 10 years predicted borderline personality related characteristics at age 12 years. This association showed evidence of environmental mediation and was stronger among children with a family history of psychiatric illness, consistent with diathesis–stress models of borderline etiology. Results indicate that borderline personality related characteristics in children share etiological features with borderline personality disorder in adults and suggest that inherited and environmental risk factors make independent and interactive contributions to borderline etiology.