Supporting Infant Toddler Temperaments
Compiled by Sarah Holmes and David P. Lindeman, Ph.D.
Kansas Inservice Training System
University of Kansas Life Span Institute
Adapted for accessibility and transferred to new website October 2022
Letter from the Director
Dear Early Childhood Professional,
Parents, caregivers, and medical professionals alike know that infants begin to express the uniqueness of their being from birth. Understanding a childʼs temperament can help providers and families better understand how young children react and relate to the world around them. Information about temperament can also guide parents and caregivers to identify childrenʼs strengths and the supports they need to succeed in their relationships and environments.
It is important to note that temperament is not black and white – it can be influenced by interactions with others, environments, and situations. As adults caring for children, we must be knowledgeable of our own temperament, along with the temperaments of the children in our care. Using this knowledge aids us in becoming aware of our natural temperament and instincts, consciously adapting our behaviors to best meet the temperamental needs of the children in our care.
This TA Packet will define temperament and explain why it is important to understand each child’s temperament, as well as provide an easy-to-use assessment tool to identify the temperament of children in your care.
We hope that you will find that the packet contains helpful information. After you have examined the packet, please complete the evaluation found at the end of this packet. Thank you for your interest and your efforts toward the development of quality services and programs for young children and their families.
Thank you for the work you do on behalf of young children!
David P. Lindeman, Ph.D.
Director, Kansas Inservice Training System
Sarah Holmes, M.S.
KCCTO-KITS Infant Toddler Specialist
Setting the Stage
Reflection: How do you define temperament? How do you currently identify and support individual child and adult temperaments in your classroom/program?
Temperament describes the way you react to your world – your “personal style”. It is biologically based and part of the unique wiring of each individual’s nervous system. As a matter of fact, siblings can be (and often are) temperamentally very different. Children’s behavior and the way they interact with others is influenced by their temperament.
Children’s behavior and the way they interact with others is influenced by their temperament. Even so, children who have the same temperament type might react quite differently in similar situations, or throughout different stages in their development. A child does not choose their temperament, nor is it something that the adults in that child’s life created.
All temperamental traits, like personalities, range in intensity. So, it stands to reason that each child's response to the environment will vary in intensity. Temperament does not change over time, but it can be influenced by many factors like a family's cultural values and/or parenting styles (“For example, a family that values persistence (the ability to stick to a task and keep trying) may be more likely to praise and reward a child for “sticking with” a challenging task (such as a puzzle)”)(Allard & Hunter, 2010) or the child’s interactions with the environment (“For example, if a child is cared for in an environment that places a high priority on scheduling predictable sleeping, eating, and diapering/toileting experiences, a child whose biological functions are somewhat irregular might, over time, begin to sleep, eat, and eliminate more regularly.”)(Allard & Hunter, 2010). As children grow, develop, and learn to interact with others, shifts in temperament might occur.
A child’s behavior may remind you of parts of yourself or others that you don’t like so much and want to change (i.e., Susan is an author who frequently has her books criticized in the media. Her personality allows her to overlook the unkind statements and focus on ways to improve her writing). Conversely, you may feel discomfort in the ways your child is very different from you (i.e., Susan’s daughter falls apart every time someone says an unkind word to her or her mother). This major different in their personalities can sometimes make it difficult for Susan to meet her daughter’s needs. No one temperament is either “good” or “bad”. It is important to know that adults cannot force a change to a child's temperament. Instead, we must support each child's development by recognizing, valuing, and integrating the unique traits that each child has, rather than trying to change a child's temperamental traits.
Researchers have identified nine common traits used to describe temperament in young children. They are: Activity Level, Distractibility, Intensity, Regularity, Sensitivity, Approachability, Adaptability, Persistence, Mood.
Let’s take a look at the definitions of each trait at Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation.
- If at anytime in the future the above link stops working, a copy of the information has been saved and can be retrieved by request. To receive a digital copy, please email email@example.com and write 'Requesting TA packet, KCCTO, Supporting Infant Toddler Temperaments, All Resources zip file.'
- There is also a pdf in the resources explaining how to understand the Infant Toddler Temperament Tool - The Temperament Tool can be found at Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation.
Based upon the nine traits you just reviewed, researchers have created three “types” of temperament:
- 40% of children identify with this category
- 15% of children identify with this category
- 10% of children identify with this category
Not all children's temperaments fall neatly into one of the three types described, approximately 35% of children are a blend of one or more “types” of temperaments.
- Children described as “Easy Going” tend to be:
- Happy; not easily upset
- Regular in sleeping and eating habits
- Adaptable; adjust easily to new situations
- Less likely to demand attention and make her needs or distress known
Children described as “Slow-to-Warm” tend to be:
- Less active or tend to be fussy
- Withdrawn or react negatively to new situations; need extra time to adjust to new situations
- Over time, more positive with repeated exposure to a new person, object, or situation.
- Generally observant
Children described as “Active/Feisty” tend to be:
- Irregular in feeding and sleeping habits, fussy
- Fearful of new people and situations – or – have never met a stranger
- Easily upset or distracted by noise and stimulation
- Intense in their reactions
- Full of zest in their approach to life
- Those that thrive on order and predictable routines to feel safe and secure
Why is it important to have knowledge of each child’s temperament?
Temperamental knowledge helps us better understand individual differences and how we react and relate to the world. We are able to further identify strengths and the supports needed to be successful. When we are aware of our temperament and that of the children in our care we are better able to aid in the expression of individual preferences, desires, and feelings appropriately.
“Goodness of Fit”
“Goodness of Fit” refers to the compatibility between adult and child temperaments. This does not mean that adult and child temperaments have to match or that the adult has to change who they are. This compatibility happens when adults adjust their expectations and caregiving strategies to match the child’s temperament style and abilities, becoming a positive support to that child’s natural way of responding to her world.
Understanding “Goodness of Fit” helps caregivers to:
- Avoid blaming themselves or the child for reactions/behaviors that are typical based on that child’s temperament
- Learn to anticipate issues before they occur
- Avoid frustrating themselves and the child using approaches that don’t match the child’s temperament
Creating a “Goodness of Fit” with all children in your classroom involves:
- Understanding your own temperament and preferences, helping you to take the child's perspective. (For example, a caregiver who enjoys movement, loud music playing, and constant bustle might try to imagine what it would feel like to spend all day in a setting that was calm, hushed, and quiet.). This reflective process can help you become more attuned to the experience of each child within your care. You can then determine what adjustments might be needed to create a better fit for each child.
- Continuing to build relationships with families to learn more about the child and his/her home environment. Share what you have learned about temperament with families and provide information about temperamental traits. Discussing each temperamental trait with families helps you to learn more about the child's temperament and the family's cultural values. Providing families knowledge of temperaments helps them to identify their child's individual temperament and to see each child's approach to the world through a positive lens. Listen to how the family feels about the temperament characteristics of their child. Share with families what you have learned about goodness of fit, and share your strategies, such as individualizing nap schedules for your program. As you learn which traits are highly valued by each family, you can partner with them to determine an appropriate balance between the child's temperament, the family's preferences, and the policies of the program.
- Recognizing, valuing, and integrating the unique traits of each child’s individual temperament when planning daily routines and schedules.
As discussed above, it is important that you have an understanding of your own temperament, along with the temperaments of the children in your care, in order to build relationships and help children be successful. While there are many great sites and tools that you can use when rating for temperament, the next section of this Technical Assistance packet will focus on the use of the “Infant Toddler Temperament Tool (IT3)” created by the Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation.
The Infant Toddler Temperament Tool can be found at Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation.
- To receive a copy of the PDF explaining how to understand the Infant Toddler Temperament Tool, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and write 'Requesting TA packet, KCCTO, Supporting Infant Toddler Temperaments, All Resources zip file.'
Put It into Practice
Below you will find the vignette for Adam. Read through the vignette and then follow the instructions below.
Adam is 26-months old and has been in Anna and Cristina’s classroom for the last nine months. He is an easy-going child, often smiling and running to the door to greet other kids and teachers when they enter the room. The teachers have noticed Adam starting to interact with his peers more intentionally during play. Yesterday in dramatic play, he found a bottle buried in the bucket, handed the bottle and a baby to a peer and said, “Feed baby.” After watching Adam stand on tip toe to stack seven blocks with another child (Look Ms. Tina! We made tower! It’s soooo big!), Cristina brought paper and crayons over to the block area. “Can you draw the tower you just made with on this paper? Look, like this.” Cristina started drawing lines on the paper, and the boys drew a couple of lines and then knocked the blocks over to build again.
Adam and Cristina spend time first thing in the morning reading books in the cozy area. He loves Brown Bear, Brown Bear, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Big Red Barn, and Freight Train. Cristina has been pausing at the end of a phrase and prompting Adam to finish it – which he has started to do. Adam likes to turn the pages, even when he’s been asked to wait until the page is done, and point to and name the animals and items in the books. When he doesn’t automatically point and name the animals or items, he is able to answer questions when Cristina points to them. The Freight Train book has been great to help him learn and name shapes and more colors.
Adam is always the first one to run out onto the playground! He is able to climb up the three stairs on the climber, holding onto a teacher’s hand or the rail. Anna has spent time modeling for Adam kicking, throwing, and catching basketball-sized balls, and has noticed he tends to throw using his left hand more often that his right.
Adam really enjoys music and movement activities, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and “Jump Up and Down” being among his favorites. When all the kids gather together and sing the “Good morning song” and “Jump Up and Down”, Adam joins in, singing the names of each child and copying the actions named in the songs.
Occasionally, when children get too close to him or when he has used his words and the other child doesn’t comply with his request, Adam will scream and/or push and/or bite. The teachers have been very consistent in modeling words and phrases for all the children, “Tell him I don’t like it when you take my toy, please give it back.” The teachers have noticed Adam repeating some of these words in his interactions with peers, “That’s mine!” “No.” “Give it me!”
Adam is starting to pull his own pants down when it’s time to use the toilet, though he still needs help to get them all the way down. With little reminders like, “Flush the toilet and wash your hands.”, he sticks his hands in the water to wash and asks for soap and says “I make bubbles!”. Anna has been working with Adam to use his foot to operate the pedal on the trash can, instead of his hand.
Activity: Based upon what you now know of Adam, please rate his temperament along with yours, by clicking here for the Infant Toddler Temperament Tool - Online Toddler version.
Reflection: Compare and contrast your rating of Adam’s temperament with the “Adam – Goodness of Fit” PDF, found on the Supporting Infant and Toddler Temperaments main webpage.
Activity: Based upon the information in the “Adam – Goodness of Fit” PDF, write out 1-2 activities for each of the nine traits that will meet Adam’s current temperamental needs and strengths, as well as building his temperamental capacity.
Reflection: Compare and contrast the activities you wrote down for Adam with the “Adam – Activities based upon GOF recommendations” PDF, found on the Supporting Infant and Toddler Temperaments main webpage.
Activity: Now rate your temperament with that of each child currently in your classroom/program. For each child, write down 1-2 activities for each of the nine traits that will meet that child’s current temperamental needs and strengths, as well as building their temperamental capacity.
Reflection: Was it easier to rate the temperaments of the children currently in your classroom/program than of Adam’s? How does your answer reinforce what you now know about the importance of relationships? How will you use this information to build and maintain relationships within your classroom/program? How will you implement these activities into your current daily curriculum/planning?
- This section has a PDF for Snapshot of "Goodness of Fit" Recommendations, please email email@example.com and write 'Requesting TA packet, KCCTO, Supporting Infant Toddler Temperaments, All Resources zip file.'
Adam – Activities based upon Goodness of Fit recommendations
- Activity Level (Adam = highly active)
- Enjoy scooting, crawling, walking, running and climbing inside and outside with Adam. (Continue kicking, throwing, etc. activities outside. Continue redirecting Adam to the climber inside. Add in some hopping, marching, bear crawl transition actions. Find some new music and movement songs/CDs and add scarves and maracas to the classroom.)
- Make sure that you and Adam both take time for rest. (Really focus on his love of books – especially when he might need an emotion break. Rotate in the other sensory bottles to the safe place. Take a picture of him reading/relaxed and add it to the emotions board in the safe place.)
- Distractibility (Adam = less distracted/more focused)
- Give Adam frequent reminders that a transition is approaching, so he/she can be prepared in advance. (Keep using the timer for pick-up time and meal time transition!)
- Encourage Adam to interact with other children while playing, noticing and describing interactions between him/her and other children. (He really seems to be enjoying the block and dramatic play areas lately, so be sure that we are in there with him and specific in naming what he is doing with the other kids – encourage him to invite others over if they aren’t there already.)
- Intensity (Adam = relaxed personality)
- Provide quiet, cozy areas so that Adam is not overwhelmed by active situations. (Encourage book reading in the safe place. Make sure there are enough sensory bottles in there.)
- Create activities that promote emotional awareness, such as asking Adam how he/she feels that particular morning. (Need to update the emotions board - take a picture of him reading/relaxed and add it to the emotions board in the safe place. We can add an activity on the lesson plan to play with mirrors and talk about our faces and features – read the book “How I feel.”)
- Regularity (Adam = highly regular)
- Share Adam's preferred daily routine with others who care for him. (Make sure all new teachers in the room read the “Orientation to Our Room” sheet for each kid, tells them all about their likes/dislikes, temperament, schedules, etc.)
- You can also support him/her through daily disruptions by using a picture schedule. (Check the visual schedule to make sure it is up to date, make sure we point to it and talk about it throughout the day.)
- Sensitivity (Adam = less sensitive)
- Provide Adam activities that are rich in sensory experience (We know how much he loves music and movement – need to add some new songs and stuff to our rotation. Work with him on being comfortable with sensory experiences – he doesn’t like his hands/clothes to be dirty – we could try more dry things in the sensory table to start (sand, cotton balls, etc.) and maybe some ziplock bag painting – or washing the babies in dramatic play with soap, water, and sponges.)
- Use a funny, dramatic voice while reading stories. Be silly! (Books! He loves books! We will also encourage him to try using different voices. Encourage him – and all the kids – to scream when they are outside.)
- Approachability (Adam = highly approachable)
- Be close by to help Adam as he/she learns to interact with others. Sometimes highly approachable children may come into contact with a child less prone to new people and they may need help to navigate the situation. (since he is one of the first kids to school each day, Cristina can talk with Adam about giving kids space when they first come in and then be right there with him to practice it – I will look for a children’s book on that subject.)
- Adaptability (Adam = highly adaptable)
- Continue to use words to narrate when change will occur. (Make sure we talk with each child, make eye contact, when we show them the timer before we push start. Point to and talk about the visual schedule all throughout the day.)
- Keep an eye on Adam's cues or behavior that might signal that he/she has had enough changes; some routine for all children is good. (Point to and talk about the visual schedule throughout each day. Encourage him to take a break in the safe space if he needs it. Ask him to assist during transitions (carrying stuff) when it’s appropriate.
- Persistence (Adam = highly persistent)
- Recognize and offer feedback when Adam is working really hard at something. (the block area and outside will be really great places to focus on this – he’s been stacking blocks a lot, gets really excited but really bummed when they fall down. Kicking the ball has been going well, but he gets frustrated throwing the ball sometimes.)
- Provide activities that challenge Adam. (Block and outside time again good places – try stacking with different things, sizes, shapes. Try throwing with two hands or a different hand.)
- Mood (Adam = positive mood)
- Play fun games throughout the day such as hide and seek and peek-a-boo. (Take advantage of that early morning time for these things. When talking/practicing with him about giving others space, really focus on “you can give them a smile if they don’t want a hug”)
- Even though you both may have a generally positive mood, remember to also describe other feelings of sadness, anger or fear so that Adam learns that these feelings are OK too. (Adding his picture to the emotions board – relaxed and/or upset – could even make his own emotions book – maybe we’ll do this for the whole class!)
Kansas Child Care Training Opportunities (KCCTO) Course Offerings
Research has shown that healthy social and emotional development in young children directly correlates with healthy cognitive development and is a predictor of success later in life in academics and mental well-being. This course is an introduction to exploring which developmental skills are part of the social and emotional developmental domains, understanding how social and emotional skills develop, and strategies to support and encourage healthy social and emotional development.
Understanding development in the domains of physical, cognitive, social and emotional, and communications and language is an essential part of working with young children. This course is a follow-up to the Basics of Child Development and takes a deeper look into development for children birth through eight years of age. The course also provides tips and strategies for developmentally appropriate activities to support each of the developmental domains.
Learn four supportive steps to help young children identify their feelings, learn healthy self-control, and reduce challenging behavior. The four steps that will be covered in the course are Feelings, Limits, Inquiry, and Prompts. This course was developed for KCCTO online with the permission of the Deveruex Center for Resilient Children and in partnership with the FLIP IT author, Rachel WagnerSperry, National Trainer and Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist.
Join this class and explore the development of infants and toddlers. Learn about the importance of the following areas: attachment, perceptual development, movement and fine & gross motor skills, brain development, language skills and social emotional development. If you work with infants and/or toddlers, this course provides more in-depth information after completion of Introduction to Child Development.
A child's temperament influences their style of interaction, but also, the way that he or she understands and experiences the world and the people in it. This course will assist you in understanding the traits of the various temperaments and how adjustments can be made in your approach or environment when working with these various temperaments.
Related Resources Available from the KITS ECRC
Bailey, B. (2000). Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline The 7 basic skills to turning conflict into cooperation. New York William Morrow.
Butterfield, P. (1992). Love is layers of sharing. Aurora, CO; Learner Managed Designs, Inc.
Denno, D., Carr, V., & Bell, S. (2010). Addressing Challenging Behaviors in Early Childhood Settings: A Teacher's Guide (1st Edition). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co.
Greenspan, S. (1995). The Challenging Child Understanding, Raising, and Enjoying the Five "Difficult" Types of Children. Perseus.
Keogh, B. (2003). Temperament in the Classroom: Understanding Individual Differences. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co.
Kristal, J. (2005). The temperament perspective: working with children's behavioral styles. New York: Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co.
Landy, S. (2009). Pathways to Competence; Encouraging Health Social and Emotional Development in Young Children. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co.
Learning Seed. (2010). Infants: Social Emotional Development (DVD). Chicago, IL: Learning Seed.
Learning Seed. (2010). Toddlers: Social Emotional Development (DVD). Chicago, IL: Learning Seed.
Sterling Honig, A. (2010). Little Kids, Big Worries: Stress-Busting Tips for Early Childhood Classrooms. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co.
KITS Early Childhood Resource Center
Parsons, KS 67357
Allard, L. & Hunter, A. (2010). Understanding Temperaments in Infants and Toddlers: What Works Brief. Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning. Retrieved from Center on the social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning
Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation. (2018). Infant Toddler Temperament Tool. Retrieved from Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation
Thomas, A., Chess, S., & Birch, H. (1970). The Origin of Personality. Scientific American, pp. 102-109.
Zero to Three. (2015). Temperament (video). Retrieved from Temperament: Intensity of Reaction
Zero to Three. (2010). Tips on Temperament. Retrieved from Tips on Temperament
*These items are available from:
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