Observation Guidelines: Noticing Temperament in Infants and Toddlers

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Activity Level

Look For:

High activity level

  • Squirms a lot
  • As infant, wiggles while getting diaper changed
  • As toddler, loves to run, climb, jump, and explore

Low activity level

  • Sits in high chair contentedly and watches the world go by
  • Sits quietly on own and plays with toys


Two-year-old Brenda is constantly on the move. Her caregiver finds he can more easily change her diaper if he cleans her bottom and then lets her stand, allowing her to help fasten the tabs on the new diaper.

Implication :

For infants and toddlers with a high activity level, provide many opportunities for safe exploration of the environment. Create challenges in the environment, such as a safe obstacle course with a favorite toy at the end. Encourage children to dance to music. Incorporate movement into quiet activities; for example, while reading a book, encourage children to flip and touch the pages. For children with low activity level, slow down to their pace and then invite more active play.

Sensitivity to Physical Input

Look For:

High sensitivity

  • Withdraws from bright lights
  • Cries when music is loud

Low sensitivity

  • Doesn’t mind new stimulation
  • Doesn’t pay much attention until stimulation is extreme


Angela reacts strongly to sudden changes, so her caregiver puts a new portable mobile in her lap and lets her get used to it before showing her how the mobile can be turned on to play music.

Implication :

For highly sensitive children, keep the environment calm—dim the lights, play music quietly, and shield them from chaotic social events. For less sensitive children, watch for the kind of stimulation they crave. For example, if they like active social games, engage them in peekaboo or roll a ball on the floor and give them a turn.

Emotional Intensity

Look For:

High emotional intensity

  • Is fearful and cautious with new people and experiences
  • Shows dramatic displays of anger, sadness

Low emotional intensity

  • Is quiet and does not fuss much
  • Shows more interest when emotional exchanges are fairly intense


Habib is a very outgoing, passionate toddler. He laughs hard, cries hard, and has dramatic temper tantrums. His caregiver is patient with him and helps him verbalize his negative feelings when they seem to get out of control.

Implication :

For children who are emotionally intense, empathize with their strong feelings, and suggest appropriate ways to express them (“I can see you’re angry. Remember, don’t bite. Say ‘No!’ instead”). Help children who are less emotionally intense to articulate their feelings (“You look sad; can you tell me how you’re feeling?”).


Look For:

High sociability

  • Smiles at new people
  • Enjoys playing in large groups
  • Is somewhat independent of caregivers

Low sociability

  • Doesn’t interact with new people unless it is clear they are friendly and in other ways safe
  • Prefers to play with one other child
  • Stays close to familiar adult in new social situation
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