Easy Baby vs Difficult Baby
All parents wish they had an easy baby.
I can relate.
Parents who have difficult babies often envy those who have easy ones. But research shows that having a difficult child is actually not such a bad thing.
In fact, you should be thrilled that you have a difficult baby!
What Is Temperament
As parents of multiple children already know, each child is different even when they were born and raised in the same home.
Right from the beginning, infants already show distinct styles of responding to the environment. Each of them has their individual temperaments.
Doctors and Psychologists, Thomas, Cheese and Birch, conducted an over-20-year longitudinal study (1968) and found that nine common temperament traits can be identified in young children. They are:
1. Activity – The level and extent of motor activity.
2. Regularity – The rhythmicity, or degree of regularity, of functions such as eating, elimination and the cycle of sleeping and wakefulness.
3. Initial Reaction – The response to a new object or person, in terms of whether the child accepts the new experience or withdraws from it.
4. Adaptability – The adaptability of behavior to changes in the environment.
5. Sensitivity – The threshold, or sensitivity, to stimuli.
6. Intensity – The intensity, or energy level, of responses.
7. Mood – The child’s general mood or “disposition”, whether cheerful or given to crying, pleasant or cranky, friendly or unfriendly.
8. Distractibility – The degree of the child’s distractibility from what he is doing.
9. Attention span and persistence – The span of the child’s attention and his persistence in an activity.
What Makes A Child Easy Or Difficult?
Among these nine temperament traits, researchers found that six of them tend to cluster together – activity, regularity, initial reaction, adaptability, intensity and mood.
In general, easy babies are characterized by their regular bodily functions, positive approach to new situations, adaptability, positive mood and non-intense reaction to stimuli. Raising these children are relatively easy because they respond favorably to various child-raising styles. They readily adapt to different parental handling.
On the other hand, difficult babies are characterized by their irregular bodily functions, withdrawal from new situations, slow adaptability, negative mood and intense reaction. Raising these children are difficult from the get-go.
The slow to warm babies are characterized by low activity level and low intensity of reaction although they also have tendency to withdraw from new situations, slow adaptability and somewhat negative in mood. These children can adapt to new situations if they’re allowed to do that at their own pace. However, if pressured to do so, these children may fall back to their natural tendency to withdraw.
But this is by no means the definition of being “difficult”. Parents know when they have difficult babies. These are babies who cry a lot. They cry loudly and they are hard to soothe. It is hard to get them to fall asleep and stay asleep. When they wake up in the middle of the night, they have trouble going back to sleep. These difficult babies are also called colic, spirited, or high-needs babies.
If you have an easy baby, congratulations! You probably have more sleep than many other parents. We envy you!
If you have a difficult one, you have more work cut out for you. Caring for a difficult baby is exhausting and worrisome. The most worrisome aspect is perhaps the fact that young children who have difficult temperaments are at risk for behavioral problems and emotional disorders later in childhood and adulthood1‘2‘3‘4.
It sounds dire. But don’t despair. Even if you have a difficult baby, there is good news for you — Infants with difficult temperaments are disproportionately affected by parenting (differential susceptibility)5‘6. That means difficult children react more to the quality of parenting than easy children, for better and for worse.
When raised with good parenting, children, who were difficult babies, do better in cognitive, academic and social adjustment performance than their easy counterparts. On the other hand, when the parenting is bad, difficult children fare worse.
So your difficult baby actually has a better chance to succeed, if you do your part in providing good parenting!
“Different children need different parenting style. Some child just needs tough love.”
How true are these statements?
In studies on differential susceptibility, parenting quality is defined as good when the mother shows high level of emotional and autonomy support. Bad parenting is when the mother shows low level of emotional and autonomy support.
These criteria are similar to those used to define the four parenting styles. Authoritative parenting, the parenting style that provides high emotional and autonomy support, has been indisputably proven to be the best parenting style in numerous studies. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that such parenting style also provides the most positive impact on difficult children.
Not only is “tough love” not the answer to raising difficult children, but it is also the worst way.
Temperament And Parenting
The relationship and influence between temperament and parenting are bidirectional7. Difficult temperaments tend to elicit tough response and inconsistent discipline from parents.
When a baby cries incessantly, you may have the urge to shout at them to stop. It is also natural that when your difficult child yells at you, you want to yell back. But as we now know, tough response will only make things worse. Instead, parents should remain calm, responsive and sensitive. It may take a long time to get through to your child and the process may be painstaking, but the reward will be tremendous.
Common emotional and behavioral disorders in preschool children: presentation, nosology, and epidemiolog. By Helen Link Egger and Adrian Angold ↩
Campbell, 1995; Lavigne et al., 1998 ↩
Shaw, Gilliom, & Giovannelli, 2000 ↩
Differential Susceptibility to Parenting and Quality Child Care. By Michael Pluess and Jay Belsky ↩
Infant Temperament Moderates Relations Between Maternal Parenting in Early Childhood and Children’s Adjustment in First Grade. By Anne Dopkins Stright, Kathleen Cranley Gallagher, Ken Kelley ↩
Bidirectional associations between temperament and parenting and the prediction of adjustment problems in middle childhood. By Liliana J. Lengua, Erica A. Kovacs ↩