Temperament in children

Social belief when it comes to a child’s temperament.

There is a belief in society that the child’s upbringing, especially the mother’s share, is largely responsible for the child’s “good” or “bad” behavior. When problems arise, the parents are to blame because they did not teach the child order or did not set boundaries for him. However, experts have known for some time that things are not that simple.

The child is a much more active participant in shaping different ways of upbringing than has long been thought. Research has shown that a newborn is in itself a unique individual with its own genetic material, an experience it carries from the period spent in the womb and that during and after birth. All these factors are interconnected and determine how a person will adapt to life outside the uterus and how they will react to it. The infant is cared for by adults, most often parents, who are also unique individuals with their own characteristics and experiences, whose expectations of the child also differ as well as their reaction to it. All this shapes the child, his behavior and the child-parent relationship.

When we talk about temperament, we usually mean the way of reacting to situations and events from the environment, which is characteristic of a certain person. Of course, no one always reacts in the same way, but almost every person has a certain form of behavior that is present in most cases.

Temperament represents individual characteristics that are:

  • biologically predetermined;
  • visible immediately after birth;
  • characteristic of a person in many situations and during the life period.

Infants differ not only in weight, length and hair color, but also in temperament. If you look at the babies in the maternity ward, you will notice differences. Some are livelier, others calmer. Let them sleep for several hours and you have to wake them up at the time of feeding, the other is constantly waking up. Some cry when they are uncomfortable so that you can hear them at a great distance, while others become a little numb and die quickly.

Study by Thomas and Chess

In their now classic study of temperament, authors Thomas and Chess asked parents to rate their children in nine dimensions. The dimensions were:

  • Activity level (whether the child is constantly on the move, whether he needs some sleep or is calmer).
  • Neatness (meaning, whether the child’s physiological needs occur at regular intervals or not – if the rhythm is messy, parents never know when the child is sleepy or hungry).
  • Adaptation (how quickly babies get used to new stimuli and new life situations. For those who find it harder to adapt, any novelty can mean an unpleasant experience).
  • Basic mood (what kind of mood prevails in a child: some usually laugh and are in a good mood, while others are crying and in a bad mood, although the parents are good enough and there is no greater frustration).
  • Intensity of reaction (some infants react to strong stimuli, such as hunger, with mild complaints, others get very angry at the slightest discomfort, and react loudly and violently).
  • Level of sensitivity threshold (whether external stimuli, such as noise, strong light, disturb him or do not pay attention to them).
  • Distraction (either every novelty in the environment distracts him from the activity, or he is persistent regardless of the disturbing stimulus).
  • Perseverance (some children can be preoccupied with an activity for a relatively long time, others change them quickly).

Temperament in children

Considering the obtained answers, three temperament patterns in children were derived, as well as three types of children:

  1. Children who are easy to raise (40 percent), who are in a good mood most of the waking state, easily adapt to new situations, it is important for them to have a regular biological rhythm and lower intensity of reactions. These are infants and children that the environment considers “good”, because there is not much trouble with them. It can happen that parents and educators, precisely because they do not require more attention, pay too little attention to such children and that they do not receive the appropriate attention they need for proper development.
  2. “Difficult” children (10 percent) can be a big challenge for parents. They are characterized by: poor adaptation to changes, predominant negative mood, unbalanced rhythm of sleep and hunger, turbulence in reactions and impulsivity. We need to allow them enough movement and as much play as possible, in order to spend the accumulated energy and frustration, as well as enough freedom in choosing activities.
  3. Children who are slower to get excited (15 percent): they adjust a little slower, their activity level is low, the initial reaction to new stimuli is negative and of lower intensity. The routine of daily activities is especially important to them, as well as providing them with enough time to adjust.
    35 percent of children were not included in any category (mixed sample).

Defined categories provide parents with a framework that helps them see their child more clearly, but of course they do not represent the whole picture. Some parents are more helped by the nine described dimensions (level of activity, tidiness, adjustment …).

The described characteristics do not clearly describe only the child, but describe the whole family. A mother, who never knows when her child is sleepy or hungry, will find it harder to organize her activities than the mother of a child who has more regular biological functions. Parents whose child is crying or in a bad mood most of the time will enjoy parenting much less than parents whose child is in a positive mood most of the time. A child who reacts negatively and intensely to changes will have bigger problems when getting used to harder food or kindergarten. It has been discovered that temperament characteristics usually extend through childhood to adulthood. As we have seen on the example of the Novak family, the problem usually arises later, in the period when the child’s temperament begins to differ significantly from the temperament of his parents, as well as teachers.

It is necessary to distinguish between temperament and other factors. sometimes, a child’s behavior can be affected by chronic illness or disease (for example, an infant may be in a bad mood due to an undetected milk allergy or reflux), or emotional and physiological stress.

You can’t choose a child’s temperament – what you get, you have. However, whether you will react to a certain child in one way or another, depends on what is closer to you – the child who is more similar to you will understand better. It is very important to refrain from negative labels in front of your child, such as “juggling”, “difficult child”, “lazy”, because the child usually begins to identify with that label, and instead of shrinking, the problem will only make it even worse. The good news is that a positive external influence can alleviate the negative consequences of a “difficult” temperament – as it has been shown, it can even change the activity of the nervous system. If we know our own and our child’s temperament, we will find it easier to understand both the child and ourselves, as well as the dynamics of the whole family. This will make it easier for us to make compromises and adjust the way we are raised, so that it is as effective and detailed as possible, and family life is more pleasant.

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