‘Temperament’ describes differences between personality types that influence how people respond emotionally to experiences.
All babies (and children and adults too) have their own unique temperament. This is partly influenced by genes and partly by how parents and others interact with them.
A baby’s temperament can be seen by:
- how they respond to change, and how quickly something or somewhere new can upset them
- the intensity of their upset and how long it takes them to recover
- their level of activity — for example, always on the go or more laid back
- their ability to pay attention
- their sensitivity to their environment, for example noise, lights, smells and the number of people.
Ask the whānau:
- What have you noticed about baby in relation to these traits?
- How do you think these differences might affect the way you care for baby?
Families with more than one child will notice temperament differences between siblings. Even with the same genes and raised in the same home, they’ll have their individual temperaments.
- Do you have brothers or sisters whose temperaments differ from yours or each other’s?
- What about your own parents — is your temperament similar or different to either of theirs?
Temperamental ‘goodness of fit’
Temperament traits can see a baby labelled as ‘easy going’ or ‘challenging’, with some parents finding it harder to fit in with their baby’s temperament than others.
For example, a parent who has very few routines and likes to be spontaneous may find it difficult parenting a baby who thrives on consistent routines and gets upset when these aren’t in place.
‘Goodness of fit’ describes how well parents and their baby’s temperaments align.
- What’s the goodness of fit between you and baby’s temperaments?
- What’s the goodness of fit between the mum’s and dad’s temperaments?
Babies with ‘easy-going’ temperaments will have fairly predictable sleeping and feeding patterns, can adapt to new situations without too much trouble and generally have positive moods.
The opposite can be true for some babies. They may withdraw in new situations, have unpredictable routines, and be highly reactive and irritable.
These babies may also be the ones who laugh out loud or shriek with delight. And although they can be perceived as more ‘difficult’, they may cope better with changes in family routines — like travel or moving house — than ‘easy-going’ babies.
It’s best not to label baby’s temperament as positive or negative. All children need parents who accept their unique way of being in the world and see the positive sides of their temperament.
A child can be helped so much when mum and dad have realistic expectations of them, respond to their needs, and focus on the strengths of their temperament.
Ask the whānau:
In what ways might you support babies with differing temperaments?
How does this topic relate to the SKIP resources?
Baby Wall Frieze – Kōrerotia mai mō taku whakahirahira - tell me I’m wonderful, that’s how I learn that I am important and I know I’m loved
Six things children need - Te aroha me te mahana - love and warmth