Welcome to Part 2 of my Baby Temperament and Sleep Series. If you are just joining us, you may want to read Part 1, What is baby temperament? Today we start talking about the nine different temperamental traits. At the end of the series, I will give you a quiz to determine your child’s temperament.
Baby Temperament – Intensity
Your baby or toddler’s intensity is how strongly he emotionally reacts to something. This could be in a good way or a bad way. Because high-intensity babies react strongly, that means they can be squealing loudly with joy or crying loudly because they are wet. There are babies who barely squeak when they are “crying” and then there are those who scream like you are chopping their arm off. I have a LOT of experience with the screaming kind, unfortunately. Both my boys were (and still are) screamers and what I would call high-intensity (my first more than my second…so far).
Many people will tell new parents to “put your baby down before he is asleep from birth” and you won’t have any sleep problems. Now, if you have the squeaker, this might be really good advice and I certainly encourage new parents to at least try it. But, if you have a screamer, that just isn’t realistic and frustrates those of us that simply can’t take this advice. I am sure there are many parents who simply feel like I made a mistake not doing this from birth, but we all must realize our babies all do not react the same and most new parents aren’t going to let their newborn scream for even 2 minutes from birth! I know I wasn’t willing to.
From birth, both my boys reacted very strongly to things they were upset about whether it was being hungry or too hot (my first son screamed in the car because the car seat would heat him up too much and we’d have a jacket on him because it was winter, until we learned better), tired (especially tired!), over-stimulated, etc. When my son was about 2 1/2 I finally learned where “don’t cry over spilled milk” came from because when he’d spill his milk when he was learning to drink from a cup, he’d start screaming! I finally had to use that saying and really mean it! Ha!
It is not all bad to have a highly intense child. It’s loads of fun when we’re having fun, for one thing. But, another positive spin to your high-intensity child is that you know how he feels. There is no guessing. In that light, I find that I am very in tune to his mood and I feel good when he is happy. He is enthusiastic and full of energy. Not saying that low intensity children are not happy (I’m sure many of them are!), but I can see that more laid back children may not be happy about something, but never speak up, too. Even my second, being the less intense one, tends to need to wait on things because my more intense child is a “squeakier wheel”. I feel bad about that and try to be as fair as I can.
With any of these temperamental traits I will review, there are good things and bad things about all of them. As parents of a high-intensity child, we can learn how to help our child react strongly at appropriate times and learn how to help him diffuse his strong reaction other times.
Baby Sleep and Intensity
How might your baby’s intensity affect her sleep? If your child is a low intensity baby, this means that it may really be much easier for you to put baby down DROWSY, BUT AWAKE from the very beginning and help her learn to fall asleep on her own from day one. Your baby may fuss a little or not at all before drifting off into dreamland. When your baby is no longer a newborn and decides to protest things she doesn’t like, her protests will likely be fairly low-key. If you decide to sleep train with a no-cry sleep training method, you will probably find it easier to not give in to a little fussing. If you decide to sleep train using a crying sleep training method, you may not have a hard time listening to a little fussing while you do the dishes or keep yourself occupied.
On the other hand, if your baby is a high intensity baby, you can bet that it will be hard to leave him upset for anything longer than a couple of minutes when he’s young. If he is like my babies, you won’t need to turn on your monitor at night to hear him down the hall when he wakes up for his midnight feeding when he’s 4 months old. Your high-intense baby might get more upset / angry when he wakes up between sleep cycles and can’t go back to sleep, like mine. You may also need to take longer during your bedtime routine to help soothe him before sleep. If you use a no-cry sleep training method, you will likely have a very hard time listening to a screaming baby while you try to break habits and it will be a lot harder to stick to it if/when he gets upset. If you decide to use a crying sleep training method, you can expect loud outbursts and screaming, which will be difficult. You may be a parent who needs to go take a shower to “get away” for a few minutes.
As always, there is a wide spectrum in between low-intensity and high-intensity and we would all probably have a different opinion about what is low and what is high. Once you know your baby’s temperament and intensity level, you can take it into consideration when you choose how to help her get more sleep. You may or may not want to use cry it out to help your baby sleep, but once you know your baby’s personality, that can help us come up with a plan.
Something else to keep in mind is that YOUR intensity can affect your baby’s, too. If you get really upset about something, your baby might follow suit, depending on how sensitive she is. Both my husband and I are pretty intense, but mostly just happy (and neither of us have a hot temper), so we are working hard in directing my son’s intensity in the positive direction, too, and showing him many things aren’t worth getting upset about and it’s working. The other day I spilled my drink at dinner and I got a little upset and he said to me “It’s okay. It’s okay.” and I said back “Thank you for reminding me it’s ok. We’ll just clean it up. No reason to be upset.” It didn’t stop him from getting upset 10 minutes later when he, too, spilled his milk (we were both tired and clumsy that day!) and I politely reminded him back. Together, we can help diffuse each other’s upsets in life. Thankfully, he is a happy child…when he’s getting enough sleep.
Explore each of the 9 temperament traits, Intensity, Persistence, Sensitivity, Perceptiveness, Adaptability, Regularity, Energy, First Reaction, and Mood, focusing on how they play a role in your baby’s sleep and in the final part, take an assessment quiz to help figure out you and your baby or toddler’s temperament and see how it might be similar or different.