Are babies born with their personality? By Jo Ryan

We’ve all heard it; my baby is so determined, my baby is so alert, my baby doesn’t want to miss out on anything, and many other reasons why a baby might be in the ‘tricky’ category when it comes to sleeping. But aren’t some of these qualities, qualities we might want our child to have? Sure, when they are not sleeping, it’s not much fun, but don’t we want to have a child who is determined, or a child who is interested in what is going on around them as well as a child who is social?

As children grow so does their personality. However, temperament is something that babies are born with. Temperament is a description of how a child reacts to the world around them. It’s their personal style. For example, some babies seem to take changes in stride while others become distressed at the slightest change in their routine. This can mean that some babies are trickier than others when it comes to caring for them.

Understanding your baby’s temperament can help explain why they react to certain things in a certain way. For example, why they don’t like to sleep without you in the room, or why they find it difficult to wind down at bedtime, or why they wake up early and want to get the day started.

When studying temperament in babies, psychologists use these variables:

  • Activity level. Is your baby squirmy and active, or relaxed and laid back? (There’s some evidence that very active newborns are the ones that mothers complained about as kicking a lot before they were born!)
  • Regularity. How predictable are your baby’s eating and sleeping cycles?
  • Approach/Withdrawal.How does your baby respond to new situations and people? Do they brighten when they see something new or do they recoil?
  • Adaptability. How well does your baby handle changes in their schedule or minor disruptions in their activities? If they become upset, do they recover quickly?
  • Sensory threshold.How sensitive is your baby to bright lights, loud noises or scratchy clothes?
  • Mood. Does your baby appear to be basically happy or generally upset and angry?
  • Intensity. How loud is your baby when they are excited or unhappy? Do they seem extroverted or subdued?
  • Distractibility. If your baby is hungry, for example, can you stop them crying temporarily by talking to them quietly or giving them a pacifier?
  • Persistence. Does your baby play with a simple toy for a long time, or do they prefer to move quickly from one toy to another?[1]

It is good for parents to understand their child’s temperament as this means you can work with it rather than fight against it, which helps keep life at home a little calmer.

As a child grows, their personality develops and the personality traits they have as adults tend to grow out of the temperament they had as infants. Temperament doesn’t change as they grow. So, having a tendency to want to be social and not want to miss out on things as a baby, can translate to an adult who is social, fits in easily to new situations or workplaces, and is approachable. Having a baby who is determined or persistent can lead to an adult who is focused, conscientious with an ability to get things done. All great qualities!

So when you are lamenting in the middle of the night at your baby who just will not go back to sleep no matter what you do, or frustrated by your toddler who you have to sit with for hours at bedtime, remember this: although right now you feel like you will never sleep again, and your child is clearly behaving like this just to annoy you, your child’s temperament is fixed, and perhaps, just perhaps, they will use that utter determination to push through the many barriers they may face when achieving their dreams as young adults. Hopefully that will give you some comfort in those wee hours of the morning. Hopefully!

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.

[1] PsychCentral, What’s Your Baby’s Temperament. https://psychcentral.com/lib/whats-your-babys-temperament/