Infant Temperament

Infant Temperament4ES BLOG 20

Ever wondered why two children can have the same parents and upbringing but their personalities be the proverbial ‘chalk and cheese’?

Regardless of the imprint of biology, environment, parents and culture, every child is born with their own unique personality or temperament, which display differences in emotion, motor, reactivity and self-regulation. Temperament demonstrates consistency across situations and over time. This temperament guides and influences a child’s approach to the world. How they explore, learn and experiment. How they overcome negative experiences and ultimately how they live their life is all influenced by their temperament.

Temperament is biologically based, hereditary, neural, hormonal and genetically determined at conception. It will manifest itself immediately in an infant in a variety of different character traits. Nine main character traits have been identified and are used to gauge a child’s temperament and to help determine the most effective method for caring for each child as an individual. These traits are:

  1. Activity level, from low to high
  2. Regularity of biological rhythms such as sleeping, eating and elimination
  3. Approach/withdrawal tendencies
  4. Mood-positive/negative
  5. Intensity of reaction from low to high
  6. Adaptability to environments/situations from low to high
  7. Sensitivity to light, touch, taste, sound and sights
  8. Distractibility
  9. Persistence

Each of these traits can vary along a continuum and a child’s points along a continuum can be observed and identified.

A lot of research has been done on the differences in children because of their temperament. Three main types have been identified and are described as:

Easy babies/The Flexible child: 40% of infants; regular biological rhythms, adaptability to change and new situations, quickly establish routines, low intensity, low sensitivity, are generally cheerful and easy to calm. In an Early Childhood or school setting, flexible children are easily recognisable but can often be overlooked because they do not demand attention. It is very important for these children in their development for a teacher to devote attention to them despite them not demanding it.

Slow-to-warm-up babies/The Fearful Child: 15% of infants; somewhat difficult at first but become easier over time, tend to avoid and are slow to adjust to new experiences and situations, slow to warm up to new people. Their cautious ways mean teachers must go slowly with them, allowing them to observe a new activity or situation before approaching it. Teachers may also need to introduce children to new stimuli gradually and only withdraw themselves as caution gives way to interest and enjoyment.

Difficult babies/The Feisty Child: 10% of infants; likely to react negatively and intensely to stimuli and events, active, intense and easily distracted, sensitive, moody and have irregular rhythms. Feisty children run rather than walk, push the limits and respond impulsively to intense emotions. It is very important teachers ensure they plan transitions well for these children as they will resist being rushed. They need opportunities for active play as well as to experience quiet play when the mood strikes.

Temperamental issues are as important as developmental considerations and must be taken into account by teachers when forming groups, developing curriculum, planning activities and experiences and establishing routines and schedules.

Interested in learning more about this topic? Check out our course – Attachment and Temperament – via the Online Learning Hub.

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