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Babies are born with the foundation of their personality already in place. Character traits like patience, temper, and others are hard-coded into our DNA before birth. As children age, these traits are further influenced by life experiences and culture. This is called temperament, and it’s used to describe the personality traits unique to your child.

So what kind of child do you have? Here are five research-based questions that are used to determine temperament:

  1. Emotional intensity. Is your child generally showing positive or negative emotions and to what degree?
  2. Frustration tolerance. How does your child react to situations that are frustrating?
  3. Reaction to change. How does your child tend to react to changes in routines, meals, and situations?
  4. Activity level. How would you describe your child’s general activity level?
  5. Sociability. Does your child enjoy social interactions?

When assessing temperament, doctors use the answers to these questions to fit children into one of the following three styles. (Not all children will fall into one category—about 35 percent have a combination).

  1. Easy. About 40 percent of children fall into this category. These babies are calm and happy, have regular schedules, adapt well to new situations, are easygoing, and don’t complain much.
  2. Difficult. Only 10 percent of babies are considered difficult. These babies can be fussy, irregular in their schedules, not easily adaptable to new experiences, sensitive to noises, and they tend to be active and intense in their reactions (happy to angry).
  3. Slow to warm up. About 15 percent of babies fall into this category. These babies need their time when coming across a new situation. They can be less active than other babies. They tend to withdraw or react negatively to new experiences, but with time their reactions can improve.

Figuring out your baby’s temperament can help you anticipate his or her reactions to future scenarios. Understanding that your baby does not choose their temperament style and that you have not caused it also helps getting past any issues you may have with how your baby perceives and reacts to the world.

What is most important is for your baby to be accepted for who he or she is, no matter what. Your acceptance of them provides a strong foundation for self-esteem.

Takeaways

  • Character traits, like temper and patience, are hard-coded into a child’s DNA before they are even born.
  • To determine a child’s temperament, doctors look at emotional intensity, sociability, and activity level.
  • Figuring out your baby’s temperament can help you anticipate his or her reactions to future scenarios.

References

  1. Lieberman, A. (1993). The Emotional Life of the Toddler. New York: The Free Press
  2. Schenker, M. Benmeleh, E., Pollak, K. & Lopez, M.(2010). Infant Mental Health: The Emotional Development of a Toddler. Paper presented at Linking Forces, Miami, FL.
  3. National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families. Tips on Temperament.
  4. Zentner, M. & Bates, J.E. (2008). Child Temperament: An Integrative Review of Concepts, Research Programs, and Measures. European Journal of Developmental Science. 2 (1/20), 7–37.

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