Temperament: Learned or Inherited?

Your child’s personality: What makes it and how to shape it? Whether you’re interacting with a toddler or an adult, it quickly becomes clear that every person has a distinct personality. In fact, one of the qualities that distinguishes us as individuals is our behavioral style, often referred to as temperament.

Most researchers agree that temperament is characterized by an individual’s emotional and irritability levels, activity and energy levels, sociability, and attention and persistence levels. As your toddler’s emotional development progresses, and he expresses himself more and more, you’ll see clues emerge as to what his temperament will be like when he’s older.

Researchers have found that it’s during the toddler years when at least some features of our inherited (or heritable) temperament begin to appear, and they’ll have an influence on our temperaments throughout our lives. The behavioral characteristics that appear to be most heritable are activity level, irritability level, and negative emotionality. On the other hand, rest assured that even though elements of temperament are inherited, there’s no guarantee that a temperament style (especially a difficult or negative one) will appear in all children in a family or even in a succeeding generation. Experiences matter a lot!

In general, toddlers and children who show very high levels of ongoing irritability are most likely to display that trait over the long term. If your toddler shows such signs of a challenging temperament, take heart. Truly sensitive and flexible parenting goes a long way in helping an irritable toddler become better at controlling his emotions. Also, keep in mind that your supportive influence can make a big difference in your child’s future temperament, even though heredity contributes to his behavior.