INFANTS

Infants usually show one of three major temperament styles. Each calls for particular insights and attention.

Cautious Babies

Some babies are just very cautious, approaching new foods, new caregivers, and new situations with wariness. Babies in this temperament group may exhibit lower activity and a more somber mood, even though they are securely attached to you and to their parents. If pushed or urged too much, shy babies pull back and may look scared.

Tips to Help You Care for a Cautious Baby

Give plenty of time - Shy babies often get stressed by changes, so give them plenty of warning and lead time before changing activities. Be sure to explain what is happening, what will be going on, what you will be doing. Take time to help the baby become familiar with the routines, sights, sounds, and play opportunities in your environment, always remembering that adapting to the "new" is difficult for this child!

Use soothing tones and calm gestures - Your soothing voice is just what a cautious baby needs to relax. Handle the baby smoothly and gently as you change her position or carry her to a new place. Use a quiet, calm voice as you introduce new foods slowly - one at a time and in very small portions.

Minimize the number of persons caring for the baby - If a baby seems fearful of strangers, such as volunteers or new aides, be sure that you are personally available as that baby's special, consistent, and comforting person.

Reassure physically - A shy or fearful baby needs more carrying, more hugs, more body stroking and reassurance to feel comfortable and at home in the care facility. The cautious baby needs your warmth, patience, and positive acceptance to thrive.

Fussy Babies

Some babies are very sensitive. Getting to sleep or waking up may distress them. These babies are often irritable. They are sensitive to touch or to any change in position, such as being diapered, and respond with intense crying to small changes in routines. These are infants who take a long time to adapt, responding with extreme distress to daily separations. Such babies can be frustrating to care for, especially when there are several infants in one environment. Since they have difficulty managing body rhythms, it is harder to predict when babies with these traits are hungry, sleepy, or need a diaper change.

Always try to remember that a fussy baby is not "spoiled" when she cries every day after being left in your care. She is indeed responding to her own discomfort. Be generous with your soothing caresses.

Tips to Help You Care for Fussy Babies

Be empathic - Fussy babies are often quick to feel stress, intense in their responses, and difficult to soothe. Try to understand and anticipate their feelings, such as when they are about to reach overload and fall apart into sobbing. And remember, this baby is not out to "exasperate" you! He is surely expressing neediness, and loud cries and cranky protests may be part of his personality style. If you can feel empathy rather than resentment for his distress, you will find it easier to be comforting and reassuring.

Make changes slowly - As you introduce new situations or positions, watch for warning signs of tiredness or stress.

Use a lot of body stroking - For young babies who have irritable temperaments, try daily massages with nonallergenic oils. Babies calm down with even 10 minutes of loving strokes.

Avoid being intrusive when offering foods or toys - Pare down the amount of stimulation in your environment so that fussy babies are not overloaded.

Easygoing Babies

Easygoing babies are often in a pleasant mood. They tend to have more regular body rhythms (voiding, eating, and sleeping) and a moderate activity level. Rather than avoiding new experiences, as the cautious baby does, an easygoing infant will often welcome new situations, new foods, or a new classroom aide. These babies adapt easily to routines and to change.

Because she doesn't cry or fuss much, she may not be getting as much attention as those who do. So be sure that easygoing babies get plenty of personal attention - cuddles, loving smiles from across a room, and admiring glances.

Learning about and observing the signs and secrets of temperament will boost your ability to tune in to and adapt more effectively to each baby's unique personal style.

TODDLERS

Temperament styles differ remarkably among toddlers. The three most prevalent styles are fearful/shy, irritable/active/ fussy, and easy.

Don't expect the fearful toddler to join readily in a group activity. Take him to the activity and stay there until he seems adjusted to playing in the new situation. Move back physically as you pick up cues that he is comfortable and well engaged with the materials or playmates.

Gather up lots of patience, and try to keep a good sense of humor when caring for fussy toddlers. Developing a calm acceptance of the reality of their particular temperament style can also help. And don't forget that easy toddlers, like easy infants, sometimes get less attention. Be sure you reserve snuggles, back rubs at naptime, and loving pats for these children throughout the day.

Tips to Help You Care for Fussy Toddlers

Some toddlers have a more fussy, moody, or "triggery" temperament than others. They are feisty! They have more intense feelings and responses than other toddlers, and they laugh harder and protest harder. Because their threshold for distress is low, they are more likely to throw temper tantrums. These children exhibit a high activity level and less-regular bodily rhythms and functions. They may not be ready for sleep when other toddlers nap, and adjusting to new situations and persons may be a real struggle.

Be flexible and generous with time - If your fussy toddlers are very intent on completing an activity, allow more time to build that block tower or to finish that puzzle. Rather than stopping an activity because it is "time for snack," try putting out snacks for a generous period of time.

Provide equipment for high-energy toddlers - Activity level is high for some feisty toddlers. They run and chase about and seem to be on the go all day. Be sure you have rocking horses, space for running, and plenty of tricycles for vigorous play.

Watch for signals of emotional overload - You can help fussy toddlers by tuning in to their body signals. To prevent blowups and tantrums as much as possible, notice when a toddler starts to get stressed or is heading into a difficult social struggle with a peer.

Model gentle touches - With a toddler who is physically acting out, try saying the word gently over and over as you model gentle touches on the toddler's body.

Use distractions - Offer a substitute if the fussy toddler is set on taking a toy away from a peer. Lure her into another activity, such as listening to a story on your lap, if she is disrupting the play of others.

Give toddlers words for emotions - Feisty toddlers need to know they are lovable and can succeed in managing their intense emotions. Give them words to say, such as "I want a turn!" or "I need that block!" When you help them use words instead of shoving, grabbing, or screaming, you are giving them tools to encourage more enjoyable and successful social relations. Feisty toddlers can engage in more active, intense play that will attract friends if you guide them in learning empathy and budding social skills.

Move toddlers with their friends - When irritable toddlers transition to a preschool group, move several buddies together. Less upset occurs if fussy toddlers feel secure and comfortable with peers.

Each child has a unique cluster of temperament traits. When all the caregivers in a classroom tune in and recognize individual temperament styles, you will be more effective and creative at devising ways to help each child flourish.