We talked last time on developing relationships and forming the attachment bond with our little ones. Today, let’s explore the importance of getting to know each and every child, their likes and dislikes. The more you know about each child, the more you can appreciate their special qualities and use that knowledge to build a positive relationship.
Children are born with behavioral styles called temperament. Learning about temperament will help you to understand and interpret children’s behavior. Understanding temperament is important to developing positive, nurturing relationships. While temperament is inborn, it can be influenced by an individual’s family, culture and/ or their own personal experiences. As early childhood professionals, we must provide appropriate support so children can function comfortably. We must learn to meet each child’s needs where he is at.
Temperament falls within three general types:
Easy or flexible child
- Happy, regular sleep & eating habits, adaptable, calm, and not easily upset
- An average of 40% of children display this temperament type
Slow-to-warm or cautious child
- More hesitant and fearful in new situations and people; may withdraw; may be slightly fussy, move slower, and/or prefer to watch a situation before joining in
- They may have a difficult time with changes, such as having a new caregiver or a shift in the daily schedule
- An average of 15% of children fall into this temperament type
Difficult or feisty child
- Easily agitated
- May be sensitive to sights and sounds
- May be very active, fussy, and have intense positive or negative reactions to a variety of situations
- May have irregular sleeping and eating habits
- An average of 10% of children are characteristic of this temperament type
About 35% of babies might be more difficult to fit neatly into one category. They present characteristics of various temperament types, but not distinctive enough to fit into one of the three groups.
Why do we need to learn about each child’s temperament? What if your temperament is different from a child? How do you build relationships with that child? How do you positively support and nurture the child?
When the teachers understand a child’s temperament, they will be able to:
- Help children learn how to express themselves
- Anticipate issues that might present difficulties for the child
- Adjust their approach to best fit the needs of the child
- Be mindful of each child’s age, abilities, interests, and culture
Let’s think about supporting a child who has a slow to warm temperament and the teacher is high energy, consistently on the move? How would that child react to his teacher? He may be frightened, withdrawn, and hesitant to be near her. How would the teacher need to adjust her approach to meet the needs of the child?
As an early childhood professional, we must modify the environment to match each child’s temperament type. In a relationship between a caregiver and an infant or toddler, it is the caregiver’s responsibility to adjust to the temperament needs of each child. The ways you change your own behavior and expectations based on your understanding of another person is the basis of “goodness of fit.” Goodness of fit happens when a caregiver changes expectations and practices to support the individual temperament and abilities of a child (Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation). Over time, and with the support of caring adults, each child can learn to manage his or her own temperament and adjust to the demands of daily life.
Let’s look at an example of how the early childhood professional might adapt to a child to create an environment where he or she can thrive, experience success, and develop to his or her fullest potential:
- The caregiver observes that a two-year-old needs to observe the other children in the water table before joining in. The teacher provides support by being nearby, commenting on what the other children are doing, and gently inviting the child to come play when he is ready. The caregiver checks in on the child as often and long as needed.
- The caregiver observes a year-old baby’s sleep patterns. She notices that the little one is slow to wake up. While other children jump right up in the crib and want out, this child likes to lay and stretch a while on her own. The caregiver checks in on the child to let her know she is there for her. When the baby slowly sits up, the caregiver approaches and asks if she’s ready, holding her arms out to her.
To recap, a baby’s first months can give you a glimpse into their personalities. Keep in mind that personality is not static; it continues to develop. How you react to a baby’s behavior plays an important role in the person they grow up to be. Your knowledge and awareness of adapting to a child’s temperament, getting to know their likes and dislikes, will help you feel connected and make your day with infants and toddlers even more enjoyable!