A child’s unique personality and temperament can influence how they respond to different experiences in life.

Children and temperament

Children are born with their own unique temperament, and this predisposition can impact the ways others interact with them, thus altering the environment. For example, happy, outgoing children easily elicit affection from others. In the same manner that the rich seem to get richer and the poor poorer, a child who is flirtatious, cute, and well-tempered will likely garner affectionate responses from adults that enrich their life. Meanwhile, a child who has a difficult temperament to begin with may naturally draw less affectionate treatment from adults. This less endearing treatment in tern reinforces a more difficult temperament. It’s an example of how nature and nurture draw from each other. In another example, a cute child with good looks will receive more attention and affection from others than those with average looks.

It’s important for caretakers to recognize this possibility for a self-replicating cycle and do whatever they can to counteract it. The fussy babies need the same love and attention as those that are naturally easy to get along with, so that they are given the opportunity to overcome this temperament, rather than have it reinforced. A fussy baby whose temperament causes a parent to withdraw and avoid the situation elicits a reaction that only reinforces their fussiness. In working with children who have been neglected, abused, or adopted, it’s important to understand this principle also works in reverse. Environmental factors can predisposition a child towards a bad temperament, and only through patience and love, and interactions that play against (not into) this predisposition can a proper temperament be restored. Hostility must be met with love, moodiness with emotional calm, and erratic behavior with stability. Self-replicating cycles are capable of developing in many situations large and small, so it’s important that parents be on the lookout for them, responding in a way that will interrupt any negative cycles.

Gender differences in children

This should come as no surprise, but there are inbuilt gender differences among the sexes. As a general rule, girls throughout their childhood tend to be more mature than their male counterparts. Research has shown a significantly larger degree of immaturity in boys ages 6 to 10 than there is in girls. (Vuentela et al., 2003) It’s also important to note that maturity isn’t a linear equation, and can vary greatly from one person to the next. I’ve known many 9-year-olds with a cognitive and emotional maturity exceeding that of their 40-year-old parent. There are many such households where the child is essentially the head of the household; looking after their younger siblings and doing their best to parent an immature parent and guide them towards responsible behavior.

Males tend to have a higher pain threshold than females, who generally are more sensitive to pain and thus have a lower threshold for painful feelings. Girls in general also tend to have a higher propensity towards emotional feelings. Girls tend to be more social and nurturing, boys more active and rambunctious.

Antisocial behavior tends to be more prevalent in males than it is in females. (Hyde, 1984; Wilson & Herrnstein, 1985) Yet this could be somewhat misleading. Recent research has shown that females are significantly more aggressive in non-physical ways. (Crick, Casa & Mosher, 1997; Crick & Grotpeter, 1995) So it could be that both boys and girls are equally prone towards antisocial behavior, but merely express it in different ways. A consistent finding throughout the research is that boys who experience abuse or other adversity tend to react with externalizing behaviors (i.e., behavioral problems, physical aggression), whereas girls tend to react more with internalizing behaviors (depression, anxiety, etc.).

Risk aversion in children

Is a child aversive to risk, or were they climbing the tallest tree they could find by the time they were five? Every child has different comfort levels when it comes to risk taking and exploration. There are those who won’t hesitate to get on a roller-coaster, those who anxiously await it, those who need a little coaching, and those who flat out refuse no matter what you say. This risk-taking disposition can influence their response to adversity. Those more conservative youngsters may have a much tougher time coping with adversity.

A child’s inhibitory control

Children display different levels of inhibitory control. A child’s predisposition for impulsiveness may affect their ability to restrain their emotions and handle what is going on. While impulsiveness is largely influenced by environmental factors and especially parenting, a portion of it seems to be hereditary.