Infant and Child Temperament

Infant or child temperament is an innate bundle of traits or characteristics that define a general set of personality traits. These traits tend to set the stage for how an individual responds to various life events. By getting a basic grasp on the concept of infant temperament, you can help foster a stronger bond with your new baby. In addition, you can use some of these traits to guide you through various parenting decisions and tasks.

  • Understanding the basics of temperament (of both your child and you!) is an important tool to help you bond and grow as a family.
  • The idea of “temperament” is that every individual is born with an innate set of traits and types that shape the way in which they act and experience various things in life.
  • Temperament is often discussed in the context of an “easy child” or a “difficult child”. This terminology can be dangerous because it often stigmatizes a child who is slower to adapt to new stimuli or events. “Easy children are not always “easy”, and vice versa with the “difficult” ones!

In order to discuss infant temperaments and how they affect your new life as a parent, it is useful to understand the basic concepts behind these traits:

  • There are a total of nine “temperament traits” and three “temperament types” of characteristics that form ones “temperament”.
  • When you look through the descriptions of the traits and characteristics, you will most likely be able to answer the questions and gain a sense of where your baby lies in the schema – what infant or child temperament you are working with.

The 9 Temperament Traits

  1. Activity Level: Always on the go? Or more low-key/laid-back?
  2. Rhythmicity: Does your child tend to eat/sleep/etc at the same times, or is it more difficult to pinpoint their “schedule”?
  3. Approach/Withdrawal: Accepting of new people? Or tend to shy away from new people or experiences?
  4. Adaptability: Does your child do well with new routines? Or are they more rigid and tend to resist change?
  5. Intensity: Does your child have a strong reaction (either positive or negative) to things? Or are they more calm/quiet?
  6. Mood: Is our child’s outlook more negative or positive? Does your child’s mood change often?
  7. Persistence and Attention Span: Does your child give up easily when trying something new? Or does your child try and try again? Can your child stick with a single activity for a long time? Or does your child tend to flit from one thing to another?
  8. Distractibility: Does your child get distracted easily? Or can they focus on their activity despite what is going on around them?
  9. Sensory Threshold: Does your child get easily bothered by loud sounds, bright lights, various food textures, etc? Or do these things tend not to faze your child?

The 3 Temperament Types

  • Easy or Flexible: These children are generally calm, happy, “laid-back”, regulated in their sleeping, eating, etc. These children tend not to get upset very easily, and often do not demand attention for feelings, minor injuries, etc.
  • Difficult, Active, or Feisty: These children tend to be fussy, less regular in their schedules, easily upset, sensitive to noise/light, very active (always on the go), “high strung”, and very intense in their reactions to things (both positive and negative).
  • Slow to Warm-Up or Cautious: These children tend to take a long time to adjust to new activities or people. They like to watch before acting, and can come across as “quiet” or “scared”. They often can reactive negatively to new activities, which become more positive over time.

How Temperament Affects You and Your Child

  • Some children strongly fit into defined temperamental categories, whereas others do not. The temperament of your child can be more fluid than what is presented above in the descriptions of the traits and types. Your baby’s various traits may place them somewhere between some of the temperament types. They may be “slow to warm-up” and “difficult” in many situations, and extremely “easy” in others.
  • Be careful not to assume that you are at a disadvantage if you do not have an “easy” child. Each temperament type has its unique strengths and weaknesses.
  • Understanding what traits comprise your child’s personality temperament type(s) can really help you to approach parenting in the best possible way for your individual child.
    • For example, if you have a “slow-to-warm” child who will be starting a new childcare situation, think about their traits and be prepared. Start visiting the center a bit before the first official state day. Make sure you’re prepared with transition and comfort objects. Let the care providers know that it may take a while for your baby to adjust. Educate them on his/her temperament and needs, and how these traits effect his/her overall transition.
    • If your child is really rhythmic, then make sure that you’re keeping sleep and feedings as consistent as possible. This goes for when you’re at home with your baby, or when someone else is watching him/her. Consistency is often the key to success with really rhythmic babies.
  • Make sure to take your own temperament into consideration when interacting with your child.
    • If you are “easy” and “adaptable”, but your child is not, make sure that you don’t get frustrated with their lack of adjustment to new situations. You are a separate and unique person, as is your child. Avoid clashing personalities with your child!
  • Approaching discipline from the focus of a child’s temperament can help one work through difficulties with greater ease.
  • Remember: parenting is often a wonderful mirror for us to examine ourselves as well as our children. Take these challenges/differences as a positive.
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