By now, regular readers and those of you who follow me on social will know that I place a lot of emphasis on temperament when it comes to babies and sleep. I have a book on the very topic (you can find that here) and I truly believe that your child’s personality plays a huge role in their sleeping habits. This week I want to touch briefly on that, and explain exactly what I mean and how you can determine your child’s temperament. This is what you need to know.
You cannot change a personality easily, and why would you want to? You certainly cannot change a child’s temperament- the temperament is the aspect of personality that is innate, rather than learned, making it the one thing about your child that you cannot change at all.
The first thing you need to accept is that your child is a unique individual, and they have a personality just like you do. Even at one day old, your baby will display signs of their personality if you watch carefully. This is an amazing thing, and something we as parents should cherish! Nurture your child’s temperament, and use your knowledge of it to inform your next steps when it comes to gentle sleep training a little later down the line.
Your role as parent is to understand your child’s specific needs
Now that we’ve determined your baby has their own unique personality, it stands to reason that your role as parent now is to get to understand your child’s own specific needs. When I meet with families, I always try to get as much information as possible from them about so that I can tailor a plan suited to their needs. What works for one child almost certainly won’t work for another, and since we know that every child has a unique personality this makes a lot of sense. So I will never advise a family to follow the same steps as another family because that worked for them. Each child deserves their own tailored plan, to suit their temperament and their family’s needs. No one book is going to be the answer for you when it comes to gentle sleep training, or any other parenting issue for that matter. Not until you understand your child’s specific needs.
We all have certain personality types, but we don’t all slot perfectly into each type. So your child may have a mix of two or even more personality types- thus reinforcing the fact that every family needs their own personal sleep training plan. When it comes to temperament (and, as already mentioned, this part of the personality is innate rather than learned) there tends to be three main types:
- Easy. This child is as you would expect. Easy going, relaxed, mainly calm. This child will pick up regular feeding and eating patterns quickly, seeming to slot into family life without a fuss. Any new changes are adapted to easily, and without issues; the easy child will often display a good mood, smiling often and responding well to others. The only issues reported with the easy child are a result of them being placed in situations that are inconsistent with what they’ve learned at home.
- Difficult. Again, as you would expect, the difficult child has a rather different temperament to the easy child. Feeding and sleeping patterns are irregular, they display negative responses to new situations- frequent tantrums and crying is often the norm here. Changes are adapted to very slowly, and they need a lot longer to get used to new food or people in their lives. Socialisation patterns are often reported as difficult- with peers, family, school etc. When faced with a new situation, the difficult child is very likely to loudly refuse and occasionally display oppositional or aggressive behaviour.
- Slow to warm up. This child isn’t as straight forward as the easy or difficult child. The slow to warm up child will display mildly negative responses to new situations, but over time will accept them as long as they are repeatedly exposed to them. Issues with the slow to warm up child arise depending on other characteristics of their personality.
Determining your child’s temperament
Only you can tell which type your child fits into best, and sometimes it may feel as though they display all three! Generally speaking, your child’s temperament should be fairly obvious- and remember that every child is different and has a different personality, which can make some aspects of the descriptions seem a little off.
Sleep and your child’s temperament
Now that you know a little more about temperament you can see how sleep and sleep training is affected by it! The difficult child will not be easy to sleep train, whereas the easy child will slot smoothly into a new routine with little issues. The slow to warm up child can be more difficult- they can find it hard to adjust at first, but with consistency they will soon slot into a new routine.
When it comes to illness and teething etc, always bare your child’s temperament in mind, and refer back to this post if you need to. And do let me know if you need any help or further advice at all.