The term temperament refers to the individual differences which are biologically based that create a behavioral style or the manner in which the child interacts with the environment. It does not describe the motivation of an action. Dr. Alexander Thomas and his wife, Dr. Stella Chess, described nine temperament differences among babies. In a study based on both his own careful observations and parent interviews, they noted interrelations among 4 temperament characteristics: mood, intensity, adaptability, and approach/withdrawal.
Infants who were moody, intense, slow to adapt, and withdrawing were also rated as irregular in all bodily functions. Thus, they were diagnosed as having “difficult” temperaments because they were difficult for parents to manage. Infants with “easy” temperaments have opposite characteristics.
In their study, 4 additional temperament characteristics were described: persistence, activity, distractibility, and threshold. These 4 temperament characteristics were not part of either the easy or difficult temperament clusters. Here are the 9 temperament characteristics:
- Activity (general motion, energy). Does your baby squirm, bounce, or kick while lying awake in the crib? Does she move around when asleep? Does she kick or grab during diapering? Some infants always appear to be active, while others only appear active in specific circumstances, such as bathing.
- Rhythmicity (regularity of bodily functions). Rhythmicity is a measure of how regular or predictable the infant appears. Is there a pattern in the time when she is hungry, how much she eats at each feeding, how often bowel movements occur, when she gets sleepy, when she wakes, when she appears most active, and when she gets fussy? Some babies are very regular at age 2 months, while others seem to be irregular throughout the first year.
- Approach/Withdrawal (first reaction). Approach/Withdrawal is a temperament characteristic that defines the infant’s initial reaction to something new. What does she do when meeting another child or a babysitter? Does she object to new procedures? Some infants reach out in new circumstances—accept, appear curious, approach—while others object, reject, turn away, appear shy, or withdraw.
- Adaptability (flexibility). Adaptability is measured by observing such activities as whether the infant accepts nail cutting without protest, accepts bathing without resistance, accepts changes in feeding schedule, accepts strangers within fifteen minutes, and accepts new foods. It is an attempt to measure the ease or difficulty with which a child can adjust to new circumstances or a change in routine.
- Intensity. Intensity is the degree or amount of an infant’s response, either pleasant or unpleasant. Think of it as the amount of emotional energy with which the child expresses her likes and dislikes. Intense infants react loudly, with much expression of likes and dislikes. During feeding they are vigorous in accepting or resisting food. They react strongly to abrupt exposure to bright lights; they greet a new toy with enthusiastic positive or negative expressions; they display much feeling during bathing, diapering, or dressing; and they react strongly to strangers or familiar people. Intensity is measured separately from mood. Infants who are not intense are described as “mild.”
- Mood. If intensity is the degree of response, mood is the direction. It is measured in the same situations described above. Negative mood is the presence of fussy/crying behavior or the absence of smiles, laughs, or coos. Positive mood is the absence of fussy/crying behavior or the presence of smiles, laughs, or coos. Most intense infants also tend to be more negative in mood, less adaptable, withdrawn (difficult temperament). Most mild infants also tend to be more positive in mood, more adaptable, and approaching (easy temperament).
- Persistence. Persistence level, or attention span, is a measure of how long the infant engages in activity. Parents may value this trait under some circumstances but not under others. For instance, persistence is desirable when the child is trying to learn something new, like reaching for a rattle, but it is undesirable when the infant persists in throwing food on the floor.
- Distractibility. Distractibility describes how easily the baby may be distracted by external events. Picking up the infant easily consoles a distractible infant’s fatigue or hunger; soothing can stop fussing during a diaper change. New toys or unusual noises easily distract the infant. Distractibility and persistence are not related to each other, and neither trait is related to activity or threshold levels.
- Threshold (sensitivity). Threshold levels measure how much stimulus is required to produce a response in the infant in specific circumstances, such as loud noises, bright lights, and other situations previously discussed. While some infants are very reactive or responsive to external or environmental changes, other infants barely react.
(To be continued.)