Even newborn babies display differences in temperament that go on to form their developing personalities
Sometimes, it only strikes parents when they have a second or third child how different the first baby was from the second baby, but psychologists, teachers and nursery teachers have known this for a long time. Psychologists have studied personality differences in babies who are only a few months old and reported big differences between the little ‘extroverts’ and the little ‘introverts’!
The difference between extroverts and introverts
Some babies are very go-with-the-flow, unflappable and nothing seems to bother them. They’re the extroverts. Others are very timid and easily startled. These are the introverts. This variety in temperament seems to be quite hard-wired and remains pretty stable during a person’s life. Introverts are energised by time playing alone and extroverts are energised by time with others. One is not better than the other and our society is made up of amazing people who lie along the spectrum from very extroverted to very introverted.
Parenting extroverted and introverted children
It is important to embrace your baby’s personality and enjoy their unique traits. You will become the expert in your baby and you’ll bring out the best in them – understanding and accepting that aspects of their little personality are really around from the day dot.
If you are worried about your child being very timid it is best not to force them to do things that they find very stressful. Instead lead by example and gently introduce them to experiences that they can cope with. With lots of practice and reassurance more timid children can take on new experiences at their own pace. If you realise your baby is an extrovert, get ready for the calming influence you might need to have later on!
While it can be tempting to pigeonhole babies as either easy or difficult, it can be counter-productive, especially if everyone around a baby begins to believe they are ‘difficult’. Newborn babies have all had different births, feeding may be going well or proving difficult to establish. For example, if a baby has a tongue tie it might be hard for them to breastfeed. There may be even underlying medical reasons why a newborn baby cries a lot and is difficult to settle – for example, silent reflux. As a new parent, you may also have had a difficult birth experience. You’re feeling very tired and perhaps even frustrated and depressed in the early days with your new baby.
Try to give yourself and your new baby the benefit of the doubt before labelling them as difficult or thinking that they do not like you (babies are incapable of feeling dislike and blame towards other people). If your baby does cry a lot and seems difficult to settle it is worth trying to rule out some of the common problems that can unsettle babies. Speak to your doctor, midwife or health visitor about signs and symptoms of reflux, colic and feeding related problems.
Real parents’ stories
Chereene, mum to identical twins Scarlett and Jasmine, nine weeks old
“Physically the girls are really alike. They are only a few weeks old so at the minute I can tell them apart only by the marks that they’ve got on their faces – we call them ‘stork marks’. Jasmine has got quite heavy marks on her right eye and Scarlett, she’s got quite a strong mark on her upper lip. It’s quite shameful actually that that’s the only way we can really tell them apart. I think they have quite different personalities. I think Scarlett’s a lot more laid back than Jasmine. I think Jasmine tends to be a little bit more of a whinger, who knows, time will tell whether that’s going to carry on.”
Diana, mum to Oscar
“In the early days after Oscar was born he did a lot of crying and it was difficult not to feel helpless and to feel that he was going to be a difficult baby. Luckily, we spotted a pattern in his crying. He tended to go down to sleep okay but then woke up crying about 40 minutes later. We took him to a paediatrician and described the pattern of his crying. The paediatrician was able to examine him and saw signs that Oscar had really bad reflux. We were able to change his formula milk to a special formula designed for babies with reflux, and the doctor also prescribed a baby antacid medicine. Our so-called difficult baby began to sleep really well and become really cheerful. We are so glad we were able to get to the root of this problem and help him.”