|My first child was so sweet natured and easy going, but my second one is so aggressive and stubborn! Is it normal for siblings to be this different?
Many parents will notice very early on that their children behave very differently in the same situation, and that what works with one child doesnt with another. This difference in behavior and personality is called temperament. In the 1970s, two researchers, Thomas and Chess, described nine characteristics of behavior in children. Each characteristic is on a spectrum from mild to intense. These characteristics are used to describe the childs temperament or those stable, individual differences in emotional reactivity, activity level, attention, and self-regulation that are typical of that child.
The nine traits of temperament are:
- activity level
- approach - withdrawal
- persistence - attention span
- intensity of reaction
- threshold of responsiveness
- quality of mood.
Activity level describes the amount of physical movement during sleep and awake periods. For example, some infants are quite content to lie still on a blanket and play with a toy for long periods of time, whereas other, roll themselves all over or kick their arms and legs constantly even if they cant roll themselves over. Hes a bundle of energy! is a common expression used to describe the highly active child.
Rhythmicity describes the regularity of such functions are sleep or hunger. Some infants quickly establish a routine of eating every three hours or falling asleep at the same time each day, whereas others, may be much less predictable in their daily habits.
Approach - withdrawal refers to the initial response to a new situation or stimulus. Some children move easily into new settings, taking very little time to join a new group of playmates, while others may observe the scene for a long time before going into a new situation. This can also be applied to other situations such as trying a new food or changing a daily routine, for example. Some children eagerly seek new experiences while others withdraw from new activities and experiences.
Adaptability refers to the ease or difficulty with which reactions can be modified. Similar to approach-withdrawal, adaptability deals more with how long it takes a new child to adjust to the new stimulus. For example, a child may be reluctant to join in play with a new group of playmates but with adjust to the new play group within a day or so. Others may need a few weeks to adjust.
Threshold of responsiveness refers to how intense a stimulus needs to be to evoke a response from a child. One child may find a light touch annoying but another needs a deep hug to elicit a response. Intensity of reaction refers to the energy level of the response that is typical for the child. For example, a child who has a low threshold of responsiveness but a high intensity of reaction may respond to a bad tasting medicine with a very loud, Yuck! and lots of facial grimacing and spitting. On the other hand, another child with the same threshold of responsiveness but a low intensity of reaction may only wrinkle his nose in distaste.
Persistence - attention span is a description of how long a child with stay at any given activity. One child might stay at a puzzle until it is solved but another might throw up her hands in frustration after only a few minutes.
Distractibility refers to how much or how little extraneous stimuli is needed to interfere with an ongoing activity. For example, the same child who will work on the puzzle for half an hour before losing interest may not be able to work for that long if he put in a room with lots of other ongoing activity. On the other hand, another child might sit in a chair with a favorite book regardless of how many times his mother calls him to the dinner table.
Finally, quality of mood refers to the general tone of the childs responses and behaviors. Is he a happy child or is he generally anxious?
Another concept related to temperament is goodness of fit, that is, how well the childs temperament fits with his caregivers temperament. If the parent is a bouncy, high energy adult, he might become easily frustrated with a child who is low energy or less active. A poor fit between the care givers and the childs frequently leads to problems and conflicts.
Understanding your childs temperament is important. It can help a parent appreciate his child with resorting to negative labels such as cry baby or worry wart or lazy. For example, the child who perseveres at dismantling the toaster oven may one day apply that same diligence to solving her math homework!
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