6.1 Temperament

Perhaps you have spent time with a number of infants. How were they alike? How did they differ? How do you compare with your siblings or other children you have known well? You may have noticed that some seemed to be in a better mood than others and that some were more sensitive to noise or more easily distracted than others. These differences may be attributed to temperament. Temperament is the innate characteristics of the infant, including mood, activity level, and emotional reactivity, noticeable soon after birth.

In a 1956 landmark study, Chess and Thomas (1996) evaluated 141 children’s temperament based on parental interviews. Referred to as the New York Longitudinal Study, infants were assessed on 10 dimensions of temperament including:

  • activity level

  • rhythmicity (regularity of biological functions)

  • approach/withdrawal (how children deal with new things)

  • adaptability to situations

  • intensity of reactions

  • threshold of responsiveness (how intense a stimulus has to be for the child to react)

  • quality of mood

  • distractibility

  • attention span

  • persistence

Based on the infants’ behavioral profiles, they were categorized into three general types of temperament:

Table 6.1: Types of Temperament
Type Percentage Description
Easy 40% Able to quickly adapt to routine and new situations
Easy 40% Remains calm
Easy 40% Easy to soothe
Easy 40% Usually in positive mood
Difficult 10% Reacts negatively to new situations
Difficult 10% Has trouble adapting to routine
Difficult 10% Usually negative in mood
Difficult 10% Cries frequently
Slow-to-warm-up 15% Low activity level
Slow-to-warm-up 15% Adjusts slowly to new situations
Slow-to-warm-up 15% Often negative in mood

As can be seen the percentages do not equal 100% as some children were not able to be placed neatly into one of the categories. Think about how each type of child should be approached to improve interactions with them. An easy child requires less intervention, but still has needs that must not be overlooked. A slow-to-warm-up child may need to be given advance warning if new people or situations are going to be introduced. A child with a difficult temperament may need to be given extra time to burn off their energy.

A caregiver’s ability to work well and accurately read the child will enjoy a goodness- of-fit, meaning their styles match and communication and interaction can flow. Parents who recognize each child’s temperament and accept it, will nurture more effective interactions with the child and encourage more adaptive functioning.235

This adventurous child’s parents provide a good “fit” to her temperament.^[[Image](https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1516103) is licensed under [CC0 1.0](https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/)]

Figure 6.1: This adventurous child’s parents provide a good “fit” to her temperament.236

6.1.1 Parenting Is Bidirectional

Not only do parents affect their children, children influence their parents. A child’s characteristics, such as temperament, affect parenting behaviors and roles. For example, an infant with an easy temperament may enable parents to feel more effective, as they are easily able to soothe the child and elicit smiling and cooing. On the other hand, a cranky or fussy infant elicits fewer positive reactions from his or her parents and may result in parents feeling less effective in the parenting role (Eisenberg et al., 2008). Over time, parents of more difficult children may become more punitive and less patient with their children (Clark, Kochanska, & Ready, 2000; Eisenberg et al., 1999; Kiff, Lengua, & Zalewski, 2011). Parents who have a fussy, difficult child are less satisfied with their marriages and have greater challenges in balancing work and family roles (Hyde, Else-Quest, & Goldsmith, 2004). Thus, child temperament is one of the child characteristics that influences how parents behave with their children.

  1. Lifespan Development: A Psychological Perspective by Martha Lally and Suzanne Valentine-French is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0↩︎

  2. Image is licensed under CC0 1.0↩︎