Temperament: The Core of Your Baby’s Disposition
All during your pregnancy (or waiting period if your baby comes to you through adoption or surrogacy) you wonder, “What will this child be like? Is my baby going to be shy or rambunctious, sensitive or easy going?”
In the first few weeks I think most of us are just trying to get in sync with our baby’s rhythms, tracking hunger, food intake, elimination, and sleep patterns. If your baby is colicky, you’re just trying to stay sane and find a solution to soften Baby’s discomfort. We simply watch, fascinated, as our babies stretch, fret, frown, and coo, no matter if they are awake or asleep. And it’s not long before we hear ourselves telling someone, “Oh my baby likes to be held like this—and you demonstrate the curl and wrap, the shoulder pat or the chest nest—whatever you call Baby’s sweet spot of comfort. By four months you become consciously aware of some give and take between the two of you and it comes into focus: your baby is intense, easy going, or takes a while to warm up.
By six months of age, you really have your baby pegged. He or she has a basic disposition or way of reacting to things in the environment. This disposition is Baby’s temperament. Research over several decades has demonstrated that temperament, the way we take in and process experiences, is not only hard wired to exist, it’s genetic. And that points to behaviors that are not changing by much no matter what you do.
Fortunately, just under half of all babies are thought to be easy going, another 15 percent are slow to warm up and hold back in any new circumstances, 10 percent are considered difficult. The other 35 percent show a combination of these traits. What are you to do with your baby’s temperament?
Your first real test of “leadership” as a mother is when you knowingly respond to your baby’s temperament to achieve a result. You want to calm your baby down. You want to encourage Baby to laugh and play with you. The minute you start knowing what motivates your little one to “do something” you are working with temperament.
We subconsciously work with our baby’s temperament all the time. But as babies pass the 6 month mark and want to do more and more on their own, parents have to work to shape babies’ experiences and help them use their strengths to enjoy time with you and with others.
- If your baby tends to have difficult moments, your goal is to keep the “moments” to a minimum and lower the intensity. Try prevention by avoiding the thing that sets off your child’s temper, and redirect your little one to engage in an alternate activity. Babies are not old enough to consciously practice self-control so we have to help them.
- Our person-to-person communication helps to shape Baby’s knowledge and behavior. So, we want to encourage the behaviors that will provide our child with the most happiness and success with others. Take the lead to show your baby how much fun it is to learn and interact with you. Alternatively, teach Baby how to have fun alone. Provide a few toys with high play value and just observe, while being available for praise when Baby makes a visual or physical “check-in.”
- Remember, you are not perfect. Some of the things your baby does that irritate you may have been your own undoing as a child. Reach back to your own efforts to develop self-control and see if you can help your child develop techniques to calm down, pay attention, or follow directions depending on the challenge and Baby’s age.
- Most important, if you are truly overwhelmed by a difficult child, get help by asking for a referral to resources from your pediatrician. Prevention is the best antidote to long term struggle with a child whose temperament will later create big predicaments. You may not ever be free of little meltdowns, but you can certainly decrease their frequency and intensity.