Early Childhood Intervention: Module One – Typical and Atypical Development


Temperament refers to “the way people are.” The definition of temperament refers to “stable individual differences in quality and intensity of emotional reaction, activity level, attention and emotional self-regulation.”

Thomas and Chess looked at nine areas of temperament :

  • activity level: the amount of time a child spends in active versus more quiet modes.
  • rhythmicity: regular or irregular eating patterns, bowel movements or sleep
  • distractibility: the child’s ability to stay focused on a task, even when something is happening in their environment.
  • approach/withdrawal: the way a child responds to someone or something new in their environment.
  • adaptability: the ease and speed with which a child adapts to changes in their environment.
  • attention span: how much time a child spends on a certain activity.
  • intensity of reaction: how intensely (e.g., in terms of being more or less loud or forceful) a child responds to events in their environment.
  • threshold of responsiveness: how strong a stimulus or event has to be in order to get a response from a child.
  • quality of mood: a child’s general mood (i.e., predominantly “sunny” or positive, “negative,” or “labile” or up and down.

Three major categories define children’s temperament. This will mostly depend on how children react to changes in their environment and to new situations:

  • The easy child: usually complacent, these children are generally joyful, adapt easily to changes in their environments and usually establish sleep and eating routines quickly.
  • The difficult child: usually with irregular sleep and eating routines, these children may react intensely to changes in their environments. At the same time, they tend to be careful; they are unlikely to jump into new situations without having first “testing” them out them carefully.
  • The slow-to-warm-up child: usually slow to react to changes in their environments, these children tend to have low-key responses.

Having “easy” or “difficult” temperaments is not just what makes it easier for those raising or working with children. It’s instead how parents can read their infant or child’s cues and how well they respond to those cues. This is what child development experts refer to as the “goodness of fit” (see full Glossary).

  • For example, the parents of a child with a difficult temperament who are “in-tune” with their child’s feelings and emotions and respond to them are likely to find less challenges. This child, in turn will have more opportunities to develop other positive qualities because their needs were met.
  • In contrast, a child with an “easy” temperament growing up in a non-responsive environment (see full Glossary) may become more demanding because of not having their needs met during their early years.

Parents can fill out a very short temperament scale, rate their own temperament in order to find out how likely they are to react to new situations and see how their own temperaments fit with those of their children.
How would an easy, difficult and slow to warm up child react to the following situations?


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