The longer I practice pediatrics (30 years now) the more I am convinced that babies are born with their personality type. Dr. T. Berry Brazelton published a book, Infants and Children, many years ago that discussed the most common types of babies: the mellow, laid-back, slow to develop baby; the even-tempered baby who develops according to plan; and the hyperactive, intense baby who may hit some milestones ahead of time. In fact, there are all sorts of personality traits and behaviors that seem to be modulated by a complex hereditary pattern. Many times, a babyÂ’s personality is evident from birth, and these characteristics stay the same as the child grows up.
Take, for example, the colicky baby. While we do not know if infantile colic is inherited, we can say that these babies seem to have a certain personality from early on. These babies are very sensitive to environmental stimuliÂ—loud noises, sudden movement, or tension from caretakers seem to agitate these babies. They hate to be naked, so a visit to the doctorÂ’s office can be quite traumatic. They often are slightly hypertonic, which means that there muscles are tense. They seem ready to bolt at a momentÂ’s notice. While I do not know of any studies predicting future behavior for these babies, I have noticed that these babies sometimes tend to be tense and anxious as they grow older.
Similarly, some babies are born very mellow and relaxed. Nothing bothers them. They are always ready for a smile and seem to enjoy all sorts of stimuli such as new faces and handlers, loud music, and new environments. And they love being naked! Many of these babies grow up to be individuals who seem to go with the flow. The petty grievances of life do not seem to bother them. They may develop at a normal pace, or may be slow to perform gross motor milestones such as rolling over and crawling. They just are not in a hurry to get anywhere.
Some babies seem shy right from the get-go. They notice new caretakers and show signs of stranger phobia early on. They may end up being the kindergartener who is in the corner peering anxiously out at her peers. Many times a parent will say, Â“I was the same way.Â”
Does the fact that babies are born with certain personality traits mean that parents cannot influence their development? Absolutely not. If a child senses that a parent is anxious about strangers, shots, new places, blood drawing, etc., the child is more likely to be apprehensive about those things. If a child grows up in a warm, welcoming home environment, he is more likely to be open to new people and experiences. Families that travel together often have children who welcome new experiences and adventures and embrace people from different cultures. Of course, you donÂ’t have to travel for adventure. We live in a diverse culture with lots of opportunity for experimentation.
As your child grows older, you will probably notice that many of his personality quirks continue on into adulthood. Set the home environment to reflect your values and cultures and then embrace your child for who he is. And remember, your gene pool probably has a lot to do with his quirks.
What have you noticed about your childÂ’s personality as he gets older? Was he this way as a baby?
Dr. Victoria McEvoy graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1975 and is currently an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at HMS. She is the Medical Director and Chief of Pediatrics at Mass General West Medical Group. She has practiced pediatrics for almost thirty years. She has been married to Earl for thirty six years and raised four children. She currently enjoys writing, traveling, reading, almost all sports, and spending time with her two grandsons.
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