What Kind of Temperament Does My Baby Have? (Adapted from Healthy Steps)

Parents often talk about how different their children are from each other and wonder why this is so. Teachers, child care providers, doctors, and nurse practitioners use the concept of "temperament" to help them describe these differences in behavior and responses to new events. Temperament can help us to predict how each individual child will behave in a given situation. Temperament is the "how" of behavior; it is a fairly consistent trait that describes how a child is likely to respond to people, events, and emotions. Temperament does have some biological basis, but it can also be influenced by the environment. For example, a "shy" child who is raised in a supportive environment can build enough confidence to overcome the "shyness."

Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas, two specialists in the field of child development, found nine characteristics of temperament in their research. These are listed below. You may begin to discover a picture of your child by noticing whether your child has more or less of a particular quality. This is neither good nor bad, but may help you to predict activities that will be easy for your child to handle and situations where your child may need more support.

Nine characteristics of temperament:

As you answer these questions, remember to think about your child's typical or usual behavior. You can also begin to develop an understanding of your child by looking at these categories in combination. For example, your child may enjoy periods of extended play with one or two toys no matter what is going on around the house, showing low distractibility and a long attention span. Yet, if you need to remove one of these toys, this same child may refuse any substitutes and will tantrum for quite a while.

Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas, as well as Dr. T Berry Brazelton, found that looking at these qualities in combination is helpful. They found three combinations or temperamental styles that are most common and called them "easy," "difficult," and "slow to warm up."

Adapted from Healthy Steps. Edited and Compiled by the Center for Promotion of Child Development Through Primary Care 2011