Early Childhood Intervention: Module One – Typical and Atypical Development

Category — 1.4 Social and Emotional Development: Temperament


Temperament1, or the way a person behaves, includes a whole range, or continuum of traits or characteristics. Caregivers may notice when a young child’s temperament falls on either of the extreme ends of this continuum because the child’s behavior and emotional needs may require additional management and support that is not required for his or her peers. These may be signs of atypical development. Parents will most likely need of professional help.

Children who place very few demands on their caregivers may be seen as very “easy” children. Some of them rarely cry and may not react to pain or feelings of hunger. However, it is important for caregivers to be aware that it is atypical not to react to pain or hunger, and these are not signs of an easy temperament.  Instead, these may be red flags that something in the baby’s or child’s development may require immediate professional attention. A first step is usually a referral to a pediatrician, who will start a screening process.

Some characteristics of children who are mistakenly thought to have an easy temperament include:

  • the child does not appear to feel pain (may not react to an immunization shot);
  • the child does not cry when hungry;
  • the child is not bothered by being left alone for significant amounts of time;
  • the child may oversleep.

Children whose temperament falls on the other end of the continuum may be described as being “overly difficult”. Children with overly difficult temperaments need help and should not be left to “overcome” this temperament on their own. Some characteristics of children considered as overly “difficult” include:

  • the child may cry at the slightest sign of discomfort;
  • the child may not enjoy being held or cuddled;
  • the child may not establish eye contact with others;
  • the child may be very difficult to feed;
  • the child may not have regular sleep habits and/or may continue to wake up several times during the night past the age of six months.

Most children go through “easy” or “difficult” stages.  However, if these characteristics are present most of the time, these are reasons for parents and caregivers to be concerned and seek for professional advice.

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March 9, 2011   No Comments