Saturday, March 10, 2012

Temperament and Development

Temperament and Development: Infants and Toddlers

By Terry Begley

Temperament in infants and toddlers is are shaped and formed at early stages of life. Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess (1956) studied 141 children and discovered how parenting can modify a child's temperament. Infants are cute and we are sweet, but it all depends on their temperament which appears early (Berk, 2010). Crying, laughing, smiling, anxiety, and how active a child may be, all have to to with their temperament. Thomas and Chess found that a child's temperament can follow them through adulthood. Even psychological problems can be a cause of early childhood temperament (Berk, 2010).
By interviewing parents Thomas and Chess discovered the first model of temperament, which was nine dimensions. They found that certain characteristics clustered together. They found that it gave them three types of children:
  • The easy child which adapts well, can be cheerful, and easily begins routines early.
  • The difficult child is irregular in everyday routines during infancy, is slow to accept new
    experiences, and tends to reacts negatively.
  • The slow- to-warm-up child is not active, reacts slowly and mild to their environment, has a negative mood, and adjusts slowly to new experiences (Berk, 2010).
Mary Rothbart has another model of temperament. She looks at individuals and how they do not just differ in their reactivity. Rothbart explains how the self regulatory dimension of temperament is what she calls effortful control. Effort control is the capacity to voluntarily suppress a dominant response in order to plan and execute a more adaptive response (Rothbart, 2003; Rothbart & Bates, 2006).
Measuring temperament is usually done through interviews or questionnaires given to parents. Researchers also observe in the child's home or in the lab. Neither of these approaches are full proof and can be inaccurate.
Psychologists focus their research on children's temperaments that fall at opposite extremes of the positive-affect and fearful-distress dimensions of temperament (Berk, 2010).This where studies o inhibited, shy, uninhibited, and sociable children are focus on by psychologists.
This is where I enjoyed reading about how biology and environment may change the temperament of infants and toddlers. The explanation of how arousal of the amygdala contributes to contrasting temperaments. The research done with MRIs shows how shy and inhibited children react to novel stimuli (Berk, 2010). It is how easily the amygdala's connection to the cerebral cortex and the sympathetic nevious system prepares the body to act in the face of threat in the shy and inhibited child and not in the uninhibited child (Berk, 2010). The heart rate, Cortisol, Pupil dilation, blood pressure, skin surface temperature, and EEG brain-wave activity are controlled through the amygdala (Berk, 2010).
Effective child rearing practices have the chance of changing the temperaments of children. Patient, loving and supportive parents are what children need, along with good nutrition.


  1. Temperament is something each person is born with. I have two daughters that we adopted from birth. They have very different temperaments. I used to wonder how two girls raised in the same home could be so different. Our oldest daughter is the easy child that adapts well to every situation. She is so easy to get along with. Our youngest daughter is the difficult child. She is very slow to accept new
    experiences. She is negative towards new ideas until she sees how they are going to work out.
    Susan Davis

    1. Susan, I too have two daughter with opposite temperaments. Mine are of the same fashion, the oldest being easy going and the youngest being somewhere in between slow-to-warm and difficult. When experiencing the birth of my oldest, I could see how some people would want to have a large family. Parenting seemed so rewarding. Then my youngest was born and I felt like I never had experienced rearing another child. I at times wondered what to do with my new baby. She cried a lot and was hard to console. The doctors weren't helping me remedy the situation so I just had to manage with huge amounts of patience and love for her. What worked in the past for the first one was not working for her. I too was baffled that such drastic personalities could have even been possible! It's an experience I love today but I have to really recognize the differences in each and tailor their needs to each. ~Kori Bower