Friday, February 5, 2010

Temperament .... Can you change it?

Many parents are concerned that when they first begin to understand their babies temperament that this is a reaction to them, or maybe there is something wrong with their child... Their baby is more fussy than other babies, their baby is less responsive or seems unattentive to things- But, Temperament is actually biologically linked- an innate characteristic of your baby! Some aspects can be modified, but it is more likely the parent is going to have to modify to the temperament- Here is a short discussion of the topic I recently wrote-

Temperament- Nature vs. Nurture How does the Caregiver fit in?

Temperament is the innate trait that mediates a child’s interactions and approach to their environment, and the social aspects within their world (Child Development Institute). Personality is formed from the interactions within the environment and the biological traits characteristic of that child (Child Development Institute). Temperament can be distinguished very early in development. These observations are of biologically linked behaviors that are individual and unique to that child (Sturm, 2004). Characteristics that are observable include fear, irritability, frustration, level of activity, positive approach and attentional persistence (Sturm, 2004).

Temperament is referred to as the building block of personality and can best be explained by use of a theoretical model (Sturm, 2004). The current model used dissects temperament into (Sturm, 2004). These dimensions are explained as emotional or Attentional Reactivity and Self Regulation (Sturm, 2004). Emotional and Attentional Reactivity is explained as the intensity and reaction to the external stimuli, while Self Regulation is the ability to accept and manage the personal reaction to the stimuli (Sturm, 2004). Attentional control, another dimension used to explain temperament, develops later in childhood (Sturm, 2004).

Temperament is based in the genetic makeup of the infant. Research has identified similar temperament of identical twins contrary to the findings in research of fraternal twins (Berk, 2008). Similarities in temperament characteristics can be determined across ethnic and gender populations (Berk, 2008). There is some consideration given to cultural and caregiver values in regards to their reactions to the child (Berk, 2008). For example, some caregiver reactions are gender biased in that the reactions differ based on the gender of the child (Berk, 2008). Similarly, cultural values towards parenting and reactions differ greatly. Asian parents react to their infants much differently than Native Americans (Berk, 2008). The cultural experience influences how affectionate, proximity, paternal involvement, etc. caregivers express in their child rearing practices (Berk, 2008). The cultural values also promote or impair the Goodness of fit in regards to care giving (Berk, 2008). Goodness of fit refers to eh ability of the caregiver to adapt their reactions to the temperament of the child (Berk, 2008).

Although temperament is observable with infants, it is most often measured in research through use of questionnaires, thus the risk of biased reporting is always a factor (Berk, 2008). Temperament shows some stability over time, however, situations also influence the stability of individual temperament characteristics (Sturm, 2004). Temperament appears to be modified by parenting skills, reactions to distress and other signals exerted by the infant, and the immediate familial environment of the child (Berk, 2008). Nutritional and emotional neglect can alter temperament, creating fearful, inattentive characteristics (Berk, 2008). These characteristics remain present even after an intervention has been implemented (Berk, 2008).

Temperament also develops with age; therefore any predictions relative to temperament should be postponed until the child is at least three years of age (Berk, 2008). This is largely due to the development of emotional, attentional and activity systems (Berk, 2008). For example, impulse control is thought to develop along with the frontal lobe development between ages two and three (Berk, 2008).

Temperament is a biologically based reactivity state of the child to stimuli within the environment. The characteristics of the temperament determine the eventual personality of the child and influence future outcomes. The temperament can be altered by both positive and negative caregiver reactions to the infant. The reactions of the caregiver can be linked to the cultural values the family is experiencing, or unique behaviors of the caregiver. A key component to understanding and addressing the child’s temperament is the acceptance of the temperament and ability to adapt the environment to best meet the child’s unique characteristics. Temperament may change with age, experiences, and biological development, but some characteristics may remain consistent throughout development for the child. Acceptance of the temperament characteristics and the view that these characteristics created the uniqueness for that child is imperative for the caregiver to acknowledge.


Valerie Poling

References:

Berk, L. E. (2008). Temperament. In L. E. Berk, Infants, Children, and Adolescents (pp. 129-249). Boston: Pearson Publishing.

Child Development Institute. (n.d.). Temperament and Your Child's Personality. Retrieved January 30, 2010, from Child Development Institute: http://www.childdevelopmentinfo.com/development/temperament_a...

Sturm, L. (2004, March). Temperament in Early childhood: A primer for the Perplexed. Retrieved January 28, 2010, from Zero to Three: http://zerotothree.org/site/DocServer/Temperament








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