How many times have you heard people say about your kid, “He’s the spitting image of his dad,” or “Where did she get such a temper–certainly not from our side of the family!” It is true that in many ways your kids are a reflection of you–not just your looks, but also how smart you are, how outgoing or introverted you are, your temperament, activity level, aggressiveness, and even sex drive. This is not to say that you have separate genes for every aspect of your personality. It doesn’t work that way. What happens is that genes influence the structure and action of our neurons, hormones, and enzymes, and mixed with environmental conditions can indirectly affect our behavior.
Differences in temperament are already detected in children during their first days of life–and these persist over time. For example, parents of hyperactive children comment their newborn nurses in fits and starts, has no regular sleeping patterns, wriggles like a fish during bathing and changing, and is impossible to soothe. These children are also five to ten times more likely to have parents who were described as hyperactive by their own parents.
Most infants fall into one of three temperament types:
1. Easy–regular and predictable habits, even-tempered, open and adaptable to new experiences, and generally happy.
2. Difficult–active, irritable, irregular bodily functioning, react vigorously to changes in routine, and are slow in adapting to new persons or situations.
3. Slow to warm up–inactive, moody, and take their time in getting used to new persons and situations.
These patterns often hang on and influence children’s’ adjustment to different settings and situations later in life. As an example, children with difficult temperaments are more likely to have problems adjusting to school activities, and are often irritable and aggressive to siblings and peers. On the other hand, if you have a hard-to-get-along with baby, don’t assume you’re in for twenty years of turmoil. Temperaments can change. Fussy infants often become less cranky and more adaptable if their parents remain calm and let their children respond to novelty in their own way and pace. However, parents who are impatient, demanding, and forceful have a tougher road ahead of them, because their kids are more likely not to change.