Every baby expresses personality traits we call temperament. How a child responds emotionally to objects, events, and people is a reflection of his individual temperament. Researchers Thomas, Chess, and Birch described nine different temperament categories. These include:
  • Activity level
  • Mood
  • Threshold for distress
  • Rhythmicity
  • Intensity of response
  • Approach-Withdrawal
  • Distractibility
  • Adaptability
  • Persistence
To determine a child's temperament, make the following observations:

1. Notice the activity level. Some babies are placid or inactive. Other babies thrash about a lot and, as toddlers, are always on the move. At this stage, they must be watched carefully.

2. Observe the mood. Some babies are very smiley and cheerful. Although securely attached emotionally to their teachers, others have a low-key mood and look more solemn or unhappy.

3. Figure out a child's threshold for distress. Some babies are very sensitive. They become upset very easily when stressed. Other babies can more comfortably wait when they need a feeding or some attention.

4. Consider the rhythmicity of children. Some babies get hungry or sleepy on a fairly regular and predictable basis. Other babies sleep at varying times, urinate or have bowel movements at unpredictable times, and get hungry at different times. They are hard to put on a "schedule."

5. Notice the intensity of response in each baby. When a baby's threshold for distress has been reached, some babies act restless. Others act cranky or fret just a little. Still others cry with terrific intensity or howl with despair when they are stressed. They shriek with delight and respond with high energy when reacting to happy or challenging situations.

6. See how they approach new situations. Some infants are very cautious. They are wary and fearful of new teachers, being placed in a different crib, or being taken to visit a new setting. Other infants approach new persons, new activities, or new play possibilities with zest and enjoyment.

7. Notice how easily they are distracted. Some children can concentrate on a toy regardless of surrounding bustle or noise in a room. Others are easily distracted.

8. Notice the adaptability of each child. Some children react to strange or difficult situations with distress, but recover fairly rapidly. Others adjust to new situations with difficulty or after a very long period.

9. Finally, observe each child's attention span. Some children have a long attention span. They continue with an activity for a fairly long time. Others flit from one activity to another.

These temperament traits cluster into several groups: easy; cautious/fearful; feisty/irritable/difficult; or a mixture of the nine traits. Tailor your approach to each child's cluster of temperament traits. As you tune into temperament, you are likely to become more successful in helping all children adjust to situations and persons in ways that promote their social ease and competence. 

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