What are the elements that affect the temperament of a child? Why are there cross-cultural differences in children’s temperament? All cultures attempt to modify their children’s behaviour to help their child to ‘fit in’. Psychologists like Sigmund Freud (Kagan, 1998) believed that it is primarily the environment that shapes the child’s behaviour. Bates (1989) argues that a child’s temperament is intrinsic and is part of the child’s biological make-up. Several now adays agree that it are more likely to be both Nature AND Nurture (Satcher, 1999).
But how does this all affect our children’s development? Whether its nature, nature or both – Temperament affects how the parent views their child, how the world views the child, and how the child views themselves. This essay will attempt to explore all these issues and examine how the concept of temperament is handled and how a child’s temperament makes an impact on their development. The aims of this study were to explore all the abovementioned issues in relation to – How the concept of temperament is handled – How a child’s temperament makes an impact on their development.
What Is Temperament? Temperament versus Personality For clarity, we need to distinguish personality from temperament. According to Rutter (1987), personalities are factors i.e. personal values, characteristic and attitudes that influences and individuals behaviour. This surfaces more, as the child becomes a teenager. Definitions of Temperament Sigmund Freud claimed that, the child’s environment is fundamental to their growth (Kagan, 1998). He asserted that a child’s disposition depends on his or her relationship with family members. Problems here in early childhood shape the child’s behavior. His views were highly popular earlier in the last century but they waned as developmentalist sought scientific evidence to back up their hypothesis. Freud’s theories were similar to John Locke’s (Stevenson & Oates, 1994) blank slate theory where he saw external forces shaping children as they were born with ‘nothing’.
Continuing with the nature versus nurture debate. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) philosophized that children were ‘noble savages’ where they were born with the ability to choose and where through maturation, they proceed through an intrinsic ‘biological timetable’. Bates (1989) had his origins here where he defined temperament as follows ‘…. consists of biologically rooted individual differences in behavior tendencies that are present early in life and are relatively stable across various kinds of situation and over the course of time’.
Developmentalists have always debated Nature (genetic inheritance) against nurture (environment). It has been recently recognized that both nature and nurture is responsible. Both significantly contribute to the development and behaviour of a child. According to Robert Plomin PhD (Beth Azar, 1997) it is conclusive that neither nature nor nurture are independent but they interact and influence each other to produce a child that is unique.
Studies on Temperament Studies on temperament have exploded of late and have brought out many developmentalists from around the world, mainly from the US. The types of research projects vary and often include quantitative, qualitative, observational and longitude type studies. The following outlines just some of them in relation to Nature-Nurture, child relations, and Culture. It will also draw out how temperament can be measured.
Nature-Nurture Jerome Kagan conducted a longitude qualitative research that included a succession of observations in a laboratory setting. He and his colleagues wanted to test children, their behavioral types and how they reacted to situations also their ‘stability of their behaviour over time. He believed that was that a child, who is reserved and quiet when meeting new people, reacted in a similar way when they were older. Behaviour has physiological implications i.e. the Limbic system is responsible for conduct. Also children tend to react physically with raised heartbeat, dilated pupils to situations.
Relationships and Child Temperament Major studies included the renowned New York Longitudinal Study carried out by child psychiatrists Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess. They examined nine behavioral types in children to try and understand temperament. The aim of their research was to see how early childhood intricacies affected a child’s development. Using their nine-dimensional framework: 1.activity level 2.rhythmicity (regularity) 3.approach or withdrawal 4.adaptability 5.threshold of responsiveness 6.intensity of reaction 7.quality of mood 8.distractibility 9.attention span and persistence.
Critiques of Thomas and Chess state that that study relies too heavily on parental beliefs and ignores the mother-child relationship as a factor which could strongly influence a child’s temperament (Bates, 1989). Researchers were also concerned about whether a mother can be ‘objective’ when assessing her child. Research of this type needs to be ‘biased-free’ (Preventative Ounce, 1996) to give an accurate reflection of the child’s behavior.
Mary Rothbart and Goldsmith (Arcus 1998) also looked into this by dismissing the use of questionnaires and conducting the process through observing the children through laboratory experiments. They agreed also that it is difficult for mothers to be dispassionate about their child’s behavior. Temperament and culture The area of Culture and Temperament is an important one, as culture has a big influence on society’s childrearing practices. Kohnstamm (1989, pg. 181) used questionnaires and interviews when carrying out their research but they illustrated many difficulties in carrying out of cross-cultural research. The problems arising from investigations of this kind included obtaining clear interpretations of the responses so they could be decipherable. Windle, Iwawaki & Lerner (1988) managed to overcome this successfully by their studies into American and Japanese children.
It is also beneficial for researchers when comparing cultures to also look at the Goodness Fit. The Goodness Fit as defined by Lerner, Nitz, Talwar and Lerner (1989) . . .emphasizes the need to consider both the characteristics of individuality of the person and the demands of the social environment’. Positive or negative reinforcements are given depending on how well a child fits in to their culture. Discussion What is the perfect child like? What is the perfect temperament for children to succeed? Does a child need to ‘good’ and ‘quiet’? And ‘do as they are told’? The debate here is to work out what the usefulness of temperament for the development of a child.