Baby, I was Born This Way!
Getting to Know your Baby's Temperament
Soon after the birth of your sweet bundle of joy, you may notice that your baby is generally easygoing or more fussy, sensitive or curious - and sometimes all of these during one day! Babies are born with different levels of sensitivity to incoming sensory information, which can be observed in the way they react in different situations. For example, a loud sound or bright light may not even phase one baby but it may be completely overwhelming for another. The unique way your baby experiences and interacts with their world is known as their “temperament”.
And guess what? You also have unique ways that you take in and process sensory information, which are even more complex than your baby's. This is when it gets interesting! Your temperament may or may not match up with your baby’s temperament. And that’s totally OK! Just like the song lyrics go, “don’t go changing to try to please me…I love you just the way you are.”
Recognizing your baby’s temperament (and noticing where it bumps up against yours) is the first step. Taking a deep breath and learning to adjust your caregiving methods to provide the comfort that works for your baby is the next step. This getting to know you phase may take time. It may mean trying something that isn’t your first instinct and having a willingness to get it wrong a bunch of times before something really clicks. And especially at 3 am when you've had next to no sleep, it may seem like it's not worth it. But trust that getting to know your baby’s disposition and adapting your caregiving to soothe and meet your baby’s emotional and physical needs is worth the energy and time to figure out in the early days and months. Your “goodness of fit” will dramatically improve how successful you feel when responding to your baby’s cues and cries. It will also give you confidence when your precious baby becomes a toddler...a preschooler...a kindergartner...and beyond!
So, how do I understand my baby's temperament?
There are 3 Basic Temperaments (and lots of variations!)
Calm or Easy Going
Sunny, happy, easy to soothe, active from birth
Cries are softer - more of a squeak, less of a shriek!
These babies are able to breeze through mild discomfort (hunger, wetness, startling, bright lights, etc.)
Adjusts easily to new situations and environments
Falls naturally into a regular routine or schedule
Cautious or Slow to Warm
Very, very sensitive to sensory experiences and discomfort
Wide-eyed: observant and quiet
May need extra time to adjust to new situations
Easily upset by sensory stimulation: loud noises, intense smells, bright lights
Be delicate with your cautious baby and remember they are not being difficult on purpose! They really need you to help them regulate their sensitive bodies.
Spirited or Active
Approach life with zest! Everything is Ah-Mazing!
Super intense and can easily be thrown emotionally off balance
Go from happy to screaming without warning
Often have varied routines (eating, sleeping, pooping, etc.)
Being consistent with schedules is essential for your spirited baby!
Within these 3 basic temperaments, you can begin to make sense of your baby's needs and get to know your baby's unique personality!
Your Baby's State of Alertness Through the Day
Help me, help you!
Getting to know all about how easily (or not!) it is for your baby to transition through their day can help you to help them. As you get to know your baby’s unique temperament, you'll definitely begin to feel more sure of your caregiving approach. Along with temperament, comes your baby's "state control". This is the way in which your baby transitions between their Six Stages of Alertness. You can help your baby make more graceful transitions by recognizing your baby’s cues and clues as they move through these stages in combination with their unique temperament.
Six Stages of Alertness
Quiet Alertness (MAGIC TIME!!!)
State Control (Moving through their six stages of alertness)
Good State Control
“Calm” babies can gracefully shift between sleep and alertness and are surprisingly good at shifting from fussy to quiet.
These babies may not need much help soothing because they’re simply not upset.
Immature State Control
“Cautious” babies, who are not as active, need time to adjust to a higher activity level and to new environments.
Plan your schedule to allow time for baby to observe and ease into a new environment or activity
“Spirited” babies need help regulating
Their sleep and hunger cues may be really hard to read or seem to be non-existent. But once they are starving or overtired, you'll know!
They will do better with a consistent schedule to help them feel secure
Both Cautious and Spirited babies...
You will want to respond quickly and gently
Aren’t able to distinguish between mild upset and real danger
Waking from sleep may be very startling
During playtime, make exaggerated positive faces and use the tone of your voice to describe the calm and happy emotions that go along with them
Really need your help to settle their crying
Lean into the soothing techniques that really work for your baby
Create your baby’s individualized 5 S’s recipe (swaddle-under 2 months or until baby begins to roll, shush...white noise, side-lying, sway and swing, suck)
Many premature babies have immature state control
Their brains simply haven’t developed enough to be able to turn their attention on and off without help - they will grow!
Setting a consistent yet flexible schedule will help Cautious and Spirited babies transition more gracefully throughout their days!
You’ve got this!
Your baby is a unique and wonderful little person and you are on an amazing (and sometimes bumpy) journey getting to know each other. Your soothing and responsive interactions are the very foundation of your baby's healthy development. The time you lovingly invest in learning all about your baby's temperament and state control will help them feel secure and nurture your attachment together. As your baby grows and changes throughout the early years, understanding their unique way of interacting with their world will help you support them now and throughout their life!