What is Your Child's Temperament?

Parenting November 27, 2012 Print Friendly and PDF
Image:Jitp_j0289917.jpgKnowing your baby's style of reacting to everyday events will help you figure out what works best for your baby.

All parents wonder what their baby will be like. What is your baby like? Is he sensitive to wet diapers or doesn’t he seem to mind? Can she sleep pretty much anywhere, or does she do best in her own crib?

Each baby is born with his/her own unique style of behavior or temperament. Since babies don’t come with manuals, parents and babies must learn to figure each other out. Learning your baby’s temperament will help you figure out what works best for your baby.

baby and father

Infant temperament

Your baby’s temperament shows up in how he reacts to his world – for example, how actively baby moves, how regular he is in his hunger and sleep patterns, or how strongly he reacts to being bathed. Baby’s temperament is a combination of seven different traits:

  1. Sensitivity - how much stimulation (sounds, lights, touch, smell) it takes to get a reaction from baby. Does baby wake up whenever the phone rings?
  2. Activity level – the amount of movement. Do baby’s arm and legs usually wave about during diaper changes or does she stay pretty still?
  3. Intensity – the strength or loudness of baby’s reaction. When baby is hungry or tired does he cry loudly or just fuss?
  4. Regularity – how regular baby is in all her biological functions, such as eating and sleeping. Does baby wake up at the same time each morning?
  5. Adaptability – the ease with which baby adapts to new things and changes of any kind. Does baby transitions easily from one activity to another? Is she need more time to recover from intrusions like being picked up suddenly or getting water in her face? 
  6. Persistence or frustration tolerance – the amount of time your baby will stick with an activity. Does baby keep trying to grasp something just out of reach, or does he give up after a few tries?
  7. Soothability or distractibility – how easy it is to distract and soothe baby when she is fussing or crying. Can baby be coaxed to shift her attention to a comforting person, object, movement, or sound?

What is your child's temperament?

Babies’ temperaments are not always clearly visible at birth. However, there are certain temperament traits you may notice right away, such as activity level. By 4 months of age your baby’s temperament will become clearer. As your child grows, you will find that some traits stand out more than others. 

Each temperament trait ranges from high to low, and many different combinations of temperament traits are possible. All temperament styles are normal, although some are more challenging for parents to handle.

Parents who get to know and understand their child’s temperament feel better about their child and they have an easier time handling behaviors that are challenging, but normal for their child.

For more information on temperament and temperament-related parenting strategies for infants and children up to 36 months of age, check out the University of Wisconsin-Extension's Parenting Your Unique Child newsletters.

Author: Carol Ostergren, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Extension


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.