The Nine Temperament Traits
In the late 1950's, two researchers, Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas, began collecting data for The New York Longitudinal Study. Chess and Thomas studied over two hundred children from infancy to age eight and identified nine in-born traits. The degree to which your child manifests each of these nine traits determines their overall temperament.
- Activity Level
How active is your child? Is he always on-the-go or is he more likely to sit quietly and move at a moderate pace?
- Rhythmicity (regularity)
Does your child eat, sleep, or have bodily functions (i.e. bowel movements) at predictable times of day, or does there seem to be little rhyme or reason to when they occur?
- Approach or Withdrawal
How eager is your child to jump into new activities and to meet new people? Does she tend to hang back or run towards strange men dressed as penguins?
Does your child adapt easily and quickly to changes in his environment, or do disruptions to her daily routine upset him?
- Threshold of Responsiveness
How sensitive is your child to tastes, textures, light, smells, or sounds? Can she hear a pin dropping in Africa or is she unfazed by the rumbling of a jumbo jet?
- Intensity of Reaction
In general, how strongly does your child react to positive or negative experiences? Does a scraped knee send him into hysterics or does she tend to cry a bit, dust himself off and keep going?
Is you child easily distracted by things going on around her or can she shut out intrusive stimuli and stay focused?
- Attention Span and Persistence
Can your child stick with a task or does he tend to give up or lose interest quickly? Does he have difficulty switching from one activity to another, or can he stop what he's doing relatively easily?
- Quality of Mood
Is your child generally happy and even-tempered or does her mood seem to shift frequently?
From these nine traits, Thomas and Chess devised three categories, which they say describe approximately 65% of all children.
- Easy or Flexible (40%): These kids are considered "easy going". They demonstrate a steady, optimistic view of the world and are not deeply bothered by meeting new people or changes in their daily routine. Their bodily rhythms are largely predictable and they tend to not "overreact" to negative events or disruptive stimuli.
- Active, Difficult, or Feisty (10%): Children in this category are frequently labeled "fussy" or "a handful." They tend to have irregular feeding and sleeping patterns, are resistant to change and fearful of new people. They are quite sensitive to noise, light, and commotion and react intensely to things that disturb them.
- Slow to Warm or Cautious:(15%): Dominant traits include relative inactivity, fussiness and fear of new people and situations. With gradual exposure, these children tend to warm up and become increasingly comfortable with the people and situations that caused them initial distress.