Differences from Birth: Responding to the Temperamentally Slow-to-Warm-Up or Shy Child
Psychiatrists Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas were two of the pioneers in the study of differences in temperament of infants,. They and their colleagues studied many infants and identified nine characteristics of temperament. Based upon these characteristics they labeled three kinds of infants, the "easy" child; the "slow-to-warm-up," cautious, or shy child; and the "difficult" child. They noted that these were not precise labels since a number of youngsters do not fit neatly into any of these three groups while other appear to possess qualities from more than one group. Although the labels may lack some precision, I believe it is important for parents, teachers, and other adults to recognize that there are differences in children from birth and that one’s response to children should be based in part on awareness of their inborn characteristics.
Much of the correspondence I received concerned "slow-to-warm-up" and "difficult" children rather than "easy" children. This was not surprising; I have found that if a child has an "easy" temperament, which implies they are easier to raise and educate, then parents and teachers typically have fewer questions about responding to them. In this article I will describe several guidelines for interacting with "slow-to-warm-up" or shy children. Let’s examine several of these guidelines.
1. Perhaps one of the most important guidelines is to become as knowledgeable as possible about temperamental differences in children. Although there has been much research in the area of temperament, I believe that this research has not been disseminated to the public to the extent that it should, especially in terms of the significant impact that temperament may have on a child’s development and an adult’s reaction to the child. As one example, while some parents and educators are quite knowledgeable about temperamental differences in children, even stating, "I know each child is different from birth," they are also apt to say, "I treat each child the same since that is the fair thing to do." However, if children are different from birth then fairness should not be equated with treating all children the same but rather treating them differently based on their unique needs.
Permission to reprint granted by Dr. Robert Brooks. All rights reserved.
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