Since the 1990s, research has significantly expanded on temperament and individual differences in children, particularly relating to social and emotional development. Let’s look at a snapshot of that research to understand its value.
Physiology, genetics and continuity: what can we learn about a child’s temperament?
There has been a lot of physiological research using brain-imaging techniques. This research clarifies individual differences between children although it does not make a distinction of long-term continuity.
One facet of this research shows how children respond to stress. It appears that most of the studies show that when a child encounters a stressful event, increased physiological arousal occurs which displays in intensity of emotion, negative impact, low sociability, poor adaptation to new situations and diffculty in concentration. Caregivers can often be unaware that these stressors impact the biochemistry of a child and, therefore, elicit some predictable behaviors.
Genetics and temperament
Research and theorizing about genetics and temperament continues. It is both predictable and important to have the nature/nurture discussion when considering a child’s temperament. We can see aspects in children that certainly appear to relate to parents or family. However, it is difficult to determine specifically which is most powerful: the genetic make-up of a child or the environmental influences surrounding the child.
Perhaps the most helpful measurement has been the genetic influences of children who have been adopted versus that of their biological parents. While it may be clear that genetic influences have been found for cognitive, temperament and physical characteristics, still, deep influence from the child’s environment contributes to his temperamental growth and development.
Continuity: traits growing into adulthood
Another focus of the research is the issue of continuity of temperament. If a child presents certain traits or characteristics early in life, will she keep them into adulthood? One might assume that this passing of traits would be a given, but the research outcomes are mixed. Some traits and characteristics such as intensity, mood and rhythmicity may remain stable while others do not.
So, as caregivers, there is a lot to discover and learn about temperament. However, those of us who have children or care for children in early childhood, we need to have an understanding of our childrens’ temperaments as we help them adjust to a changing world. Because our children undergo very formative stages in life that will impact them in many ways, we need clarity to navigate them.
I will discuss more about this very important topic of temperament. Hopefully, a better understanding of this topic will provide new awareness toward creating an environment that will help children grow into emotionally and relationally healthy individuals.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network