Types of Temperament in Infants and Their Characteristics

Knowing your baby's temperament type can help you understand his needs and adapt to him. We'll tell you what they are and how to respond to them here.
Types of Temperament in Infants and Their Characteristics
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 15 December, 2022

Knowing the types of temperament in infants is a determining factor in adapting parenting to the needs of children. The personality of each person develops over time and, to a large extent, according to his or her experiences and environment.

Thus, certain innate tendencies can be identified from birth that determine how the baby feels, acts, and relates to the environment. In particular, temperament is considered a biological component of personality.

It’s highly hereditary and is present from the beginning of life. In a way, it forms the basis for the character that will develop later on.

However, although it’s a stable trait and is determined by genetics, it can be shaped and nuanced to some extent by the parenting work done by the parents. Want to know more about it? Read on!

What are the types of temperament in babies?

The largest, deepest, and most comprehensive research on temperament was carried out by Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess in the middle of the 20th century. It lasted more than three decades and followed the development of more than a hundred children from the age of three months to adulthood.

The findings of this study determined that there are three main types of temperament, which are already visible at birth. It’s worth mentioning that not all children can be purely classified into one of these three categories.

In fact, about 35% of children may have mixed characteristics. Even so, we’ll tell you what each one consists of.

Bebé feliz
While some temperament characteristics are hereditary, others are determined by parenting style and environment.

Easy temperament

It’s estimated that approximately 40% of children have an easy temperament, making it the most common temperament of them all. These infants are every parent’s dream: stable, happy, and predictable.

They tend to experience positive emotions most of the time and tolerate frustration well. They’re also easy to calm down when they become distressed.

Their sleeping and feeding routines are very regular, and their emotions are moderate in intensity. They’re also open to new experiences: they tend to smile at strangers, are willing to try and tolerate new tastes, and have no problem adapting to change.

Difficult temperament

These children represent 10% of the total, and, despite being in the minority, they can be a real challenge for their parents. They tend to experience negative emotions frequently and express them with crying and irritability. They have difficulty tolerating frustration and are difficult to calm down.

Their emotional states are very intense (both positive and negative). In addition, their routines and habits are quite irregular. They find it difficult to adapt to change, are reluctant to try new experiences, and tend to distrust strangers.

Like this article? You may also like to read: The Importance of Crawling for your Baby’s Development

Slow or apathetic temperament

This third category has been given different names. These include “apathetic temperament,” “slow adapting children,” or “difficult to excite babies.” In fact, it describes 15% of infants who are characterized by low reactivity and slow adaptation.

Thus, these children show emotional states with low intensity, react weakly to stimuli and show interest in very rare instances. They tend to be calm but interact little and need to pace themselves.

For example, they tend to take longer to adapt to changes and open up to new situations. Similarly, patience is necessary to stabilize and regularize their routines.

A good fit: How can we adapt to temperament types in babies?

Knowing the temperament types in babies is only a first step in adapting parenting and education, because the key really lies in a good fit.

This term refers to the degree to which the baby’s temperament is adapted to the demands of the environment, and more specifically to parental expectations.

It’s necessary to remember that each parent has his or her own temperament, which may be similar or very different from that of his or her child. In addition, it also may be more or less complementary to that of the child.

When there’s not an adequate adjustment between the two, problems arise in the bond that can affect infant development. Therefore, it’s not simply a matter of parents changing their ways of being, but of knowing how to recognize the needs of children in order to adapt to them.

For example, if the parent reacts with despair and hostility to a child with a difficult temperament, these “negative” characteristics will only be reinforced.

On the contrary, if the adult is able to sustain and regulate the child’s discomfort, the child’s temperament can be softened and the bond between the two will be much healthier and more satisfying.

Similarly, it’s also common for infants with apathetic temperaments to receive less stimulation than required. This is because they’re quiet children who don’t make a fuss and don’t interact intensely with the world. Bearing this in mind, the people around them may not give them all the attention they need.

In such cases, parents should make a deliberate effort to stimulate and encourage the child.

Llanto desconsolado en un bebé
Parental intervention plays a major role in improving and working with a baby’s temperament.

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Some final recommendations on infant temperament

In short, the types of temperament in babies give us some guidelines to work on as parents and caregivers. If parents are sensitive to the characteristics and needs of their children and respond to them appropriately, they’ll be able to enhance their qualities and help them to regulate the areas in which they present more difficulties.

All of this is of utmost importance if we consider that temperament type has been linked to the appearance of multiple emotional and behavioral problems.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Albores-Gallo, L., Márquez-Caraveo, M. E., & Estañol, B. (2003). ¿ Qué es el temperamento? El retorno de un concepto ancestral. Salud mental26(3), 16-26. https://www.medigraphic.com/pdfs/salmen/sam-2003/sam033c.pdf
  • Betancourt, D., & Andrade, P. (2008). La influencia del temperamento en problemas internalizados y externalizados en niños. Revista Intercontinental de Psicología y Educación10(1), 29-48. https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/802/80210103.pdf
  • Thomas, A., & Chess, S. (1985). Genesis and evolution of behavioral disorders: From infancy to early adult life. Annual Progress in Child Psychiatry & Child Development, 140–158.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.