Parents and friends of infants might want to know that they should parent and treat children differently, according to their individuality. Let me introduce you to a goodness-of-fit concept applied to early child development.
The research data suggests that the best development of a child happens if the temperament fits well into the environment, the goodness of fit, with social acceptance by main caregivers. Some people may recognize the term “goodness of fit” as a statistical tool. It compares observed reality with those values theoretically expected under a certain model, between data and the prediction curve. They usually differ because simplified models of reality are abstractions. Similar types of abstractions are our expectations of children’s character and behavior. Societal norms and common recommendations on raising children are also just models and generalizations. If you want your child to have adequate self-esteem and feel accepted and understood, build your relationship by realizing the child's unique abilities and temperament. The compatibility of your and your child’s personalities, along with the harmony between your parenting style and the attitudes of the child, would allow for the optimal development and a stable life foundation of the young person. You need to accommodate the child’s active, adventurous, and dissimilar from your ways to discover the world and their place in it.
If you would expect or demand a behavior the child biologically is not tuned to demonstrate, your cooperation would be much less successful. Some specialists call it poorness of fit. The child might have reactions detrimental to their psychological development and become convinced of being a constant problem (Oliker, 2013). Your mutual responses may escalate into a vicious cycle of frustration for you both and, more importantly, cause the child's distorted vision of reality and poor ability to adapt to various social conditions. It can lead to withdrawal and distrust between you. What might be worse, the child might conform to your demands to be fit at the expense of their true potential. Especially damaging styles of child-caregiver relationship are an energetic child and a depressed parent, a risk-taking child and a fearful parent, an independent child and a controlling parent, and a shy child and an aggressive parent (Oliker, 2013). Known factors for increased risk of developing personality disorders are abuse in childhood, genetics, variations in brain structure and chemistry, and additionally unstable first relationships, and chaotic family life during childhood (Mayo Clinic, 2016). If your kid cries and turns away from an important relative, do not be harsh, it can only make things worse: his little heart pounding in real fear or intense dislike is not his choice. I vividly remember how when I was a young child, sometimes in social situations, people expected me to kiss or be held by a person whom I did not like right away. I was disrespectful toward a child, I believe. Close physical contact should not be expected from children toward any adult acquaintances because they have little chance to avoid it.
Temperament is a set of behavioral tendencies that determine a person's reactions to the environment (Yilmaz, n.d.). The two most common characteristics used to determine temperament, the biologically based foundation of personality, are activity level and attention span. Some researchers add emotionality or intensity of emotional reactions. Others specify positive affect and two types of distress, fearful and irritable. Other basic temperament categories are self-regulation, sociability, soothability, rhythmicity, distractibility, approach and withdrawal responses to new objects, adaptability, threshold responsiveness (stimulation required for a response), and quality of mood. Tendencies toward such reactions shape personality traits together with environmental interactions, and at least two conceptual models can predict the future development of the child. In infants, one effective biological measure of temperament is heart rate. For example, very shy babies usually have high heart rates after exposure to something new. After age two, when the moods are settled in a certain behavioral pattern, the reliable measure is brain activity (Arnett, 2012). It takes more effort and resources to observe it with special equipment but could help in some cases, for example, if a parent is puzzled by a child’s behavior.
I would not want to fantasize about the ‘ideal’ temperament of an infant. There is certainly a balance for each trait that would make it the easiest for the child to adapt to most situations. For instance, too little agreeableness could be discouraging, but too much of it could signal a dangerous weakness of character. However, we live in highly specialized societies, and many professions fit better for certain temperaments. For example, a longer attention span could be necessary for a biologist or a fine art painter, but not so much for a community organizer or an improvisation artist. It is beneficial to be able to concentrate for longer periods of time, but the inability to switch the focus quickly might be dangerous in many situations. For example, I have a long attention span, which was also advantageous and preferred in the subculture in which I grew up. Nevertheless, I would need to produce creative solutions if I would care for a child who constantly switches attention. I could arrange more exciting activities for him, while simultaneously working on my dislike of being interrupted. That would provide attention training for him and character improvement for me. There is no one ideal way to parent all children, and there are no ideal infants. We should parent children differently according to their temperaments.
Ditta M. Oliker Ph.D. Lasting Effects of a Goodness-or Poorness-of-Fit. (2013). Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-long-reach-childhood/201312/lasting-effects-goodness-or-poorness-fit
Mayo Clinic. (2016). Personality disorders - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/personality-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20354463
Eser Yilmaz, M.S., Ph.D. Temperaments: Definition, Examples, & Types. (n.d.). The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. https://www.berkeleywellbeing.com/temperaments.html