Temperament Is a Two-Way Street
Several researchers have attempted to assess the temperament of infants so they can tell parents if they have an “easy” or “difficult” baby. These efforts have been largely unsuccessful. While some children do display stable temperamental patterns right from birth, most will go through a series of different phases before things settle down after two or three years.
Personally, what I find highly objectionable is the use of the terms “easy” and “difficult” in these assessments. Whether a baby is easy or difficult does not simply depend on the infant’s behavior. It also depends on the personality and experience of the parent.
If you are an extremely nervous parent (“Oh no! The baby burped! What should I do?”), then any infant is going to be difficult. If you are a totally laid back parent (“Wow. Projectile vomiting. That’s cool.”), then any infant is going to be easy.
Or let’s say your first baby is like our last baby. My wife always said that if we had the last one first, we never would have had the others. He spit up everything we fed him and he refused to sleep. Now your second baby comes along and the researchers tell you she is “average.” Well to you, the second one is as easy as can be because you survived the nightmare of the first.
Worse yet, suppose it goes the other way around. Let’s say your first baby is a baby like I was. I was the world’s best baby. All I did was sleep. If I opened my eyes, I opened my mouth. You put a bottle in my mouth, I drank it down, closed my mouth, and closed my eyes. Now your second baby comes along and the researchers tell you she is “average.” Well to you, the second one is quite difficult because you had absolutely no problems with the first.
So if anyone tries to tell you what kind of baby you have, don’t pay them any mind. Whether your infant is easy or difficult is something that is likely to change from month to month, and more importantly, it is something that you can only determine for yourself.
Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project. He may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.