All babies are hardwired with certain personality traits, and the ones your child was born with will help dictate whether he laughs or cries in the face of change, keeps going when frustrated, and maybe even how soon he tries to walk.
But that's only part of it. The other half of the equation is how you respond to his unique propensities. Say you have a shy baby. If you give him a chance to warm up when your Aunt Rita and Uncle Phil come over, he may be blowing raspberries all over them by the time the visit wraps up. But try thrusting him into their arms and he may not go near them again before kindergarten.
Researchers believe that each child starts life with an inherited set of nine personality traits. The specific combo he comes bundled with puts him into one of three categories: easy, slow to warm up, and challenging.
But don't freak out! Even though you can't change your baby's inborn personality any more than you can change your spouse's annoying habits (though that doesn't stop us from trying!), you can help him realize his full potential by providing him with the opportunity to experience and discover what best suits him.
How soon will you know what your baby's like? Some traits are obvious almost from birth; others will become apparent by 3 or 4 months. And some may evolve in intensity. For instance, his low frustration level may improve as he gains confidence in his abilities, or his desire for activity may subside a bit as his attention span grows. Even the most challenging traits can become less problematic as a child learns to cope with life's ups and downs and figures out what makes him happy -- in conjunction with your support and guidance, of course.
In the meantime, here's how to recognize the kid your baby will soon become, and bring out his best.
1) Activity level
What to look for: Does your baby usually seem content to watch the world from her bouncy seat? Or does she turn diaper changes into wrestling matches?
How to deal: If she has a low activity level, you may not want to overwhelm her with too much physical play. Instead, give her plenty of options -- a hanging gym, an activity bar on the stroller -- to keep her motivated.
The highly active baby, on the other hand, has a high tolerance for stimulation. She may reach gross-motor milestones like walking sooner than other babies. The downside: You need to be vigilant about safety because she's more likely than mellower babies to get into trouble. Remove all crib accessories the minute she learns to roll over, always use the safety belt on the changing pad, and never leave her unattended in a bouncy seat or she's liable to flip herself over. Here's the bright side, though: She'll probably be a good sleeper, since all this action is bound to wear her out!
What to look for: Does your baby seem to sleep, eat, and even poop like clockwork? Or does he defy your every attempt to impose a routine?
How to deal: For a baby who thrives on a schedule, structure your day around his habits as much as possible for now -- his sense of security depends on it -- and he'll make your life easy. When he gets a little bigger, he'll be able to tolerate the occasional missed nap.
If he's unpredictable, try not to be too rigid or you'll make yourself crazy. Don't obsess about routine, but do try to keep elements of it the same day to day. For instance, nurse him in the same chair and stick to his favorite soothing methods. And definitely be persistent about bedtime -- these babies still need their rest and will become super cranky without it.
What to look for: Does your baby smile and coo at just about anyone who scoops her up, no matter how abruptly? Or does she seem to have been born with stranger anxiety, resisting even her doting grandma's advances?
How to deal: If you have a social butterfly, give her lots of opportunities to interact with others -- join a playgroup, go to the park, and bring her along when you run errands.
Don't force a shier baby into unfamiliar situations. Keep her close until she signals that she's ready to interact -- by making cooing noises at company or, if she's older, by trying to wriggle off your lap and crawl around. And don't worry: Though she'll probably always be a little bit reserved, she'll make friends -- just at her own pace.
Even the friendliest baby will go through a clingy stage -- known as stranger anxiety -- somewhere around 9 months, which will gradually taper off around 18 months.
What to look for: Does your baby typically go with the flow? Or does he refuse to sleep anywhere but in his own crib and spit new foods back at you?
How to deal: Easygoing babies are adaptable enough to tolerate changes and new people in their lives. Traveling is usually no sweat with this personality type -- he can go to sleep in a hotel room or at Grandma's as easily as in his nursery. Enjoy his flexibility, but don't take advantage of it. Even though he warms up to a new babysitter, for instance, make sure they're playing together before you take off.
If your baby is less flexible, go slow when introducing new things in his life. Even seemingly little changes like your getting new glasses or Dad's shaving off his beard can be downright scary for him. If you're on the go, pack familiar objects, such as favorite blankets, books, and toys, so he has some reminders of home.
What to look for: Does your baby make her feelings known -- loudly -- with earthshaking cries? Or is she more liable to whimper if something is bothering her?
How to deal: While you're going to want to soothe your little drama queen's every cry, don't feel guilty when you can't. This is how intense babies show their feelings. If you can't stand it anymore, put her in the crib and take a time-out yourself. And take heart: One day that same intensity may make her an excellent student because she'll put all her energy into that, too.
Life may seem easier with a less intense baby, but you have to work harder to understand what she's thinking. Pay attention (watch for scowls or signs of boredom, like looking away) and talk your baby through her feelings -- "Oh, you don't like that noise!" -- so she knows you're there and involved.
What to look for: Does your baby wake up with a smile and keep it almost all day long? Or does he tend to start his day with a scowl, whimper, or whine?
How to deal: What's not to like with a happy baby? You can bond with him just by having fun: singing songs, blowing raspberries at each other, and playing silly games.
Don't beat yourself up if your baby frowns more than he grins -- it doesn't mean he doesn't love you. Do your best to make sure he isn't uncomfortable or ill, and make sure to provide him with plenty of smiles and affection to help him view the world more optimistically. As he gets bigger and learns to express himself better, his crying jags should diminish. The secret to keeping these children happy is to let them be just who they are.
What to look for: Can you soothe your baby quickly by changing the scenery or giving her a new toy? Or is it harder to calm her down if she's not getting exactly what she wants, when she wants it?
How to deal: It's a cinch to keep an easily distracted baby out of trouble or avert temper tantrums. Simply steer her away from the light socket and she'll forget about it. But keep in mind that things may also distract her in a negative way -- for example, a noisy room may disrupt her feedings -- so when possible, keep such stimulation to a minimum.
If she's more focused, she may not notice, say, lawn mowers when she's settling down for a nap, but be prepared to act fast -- with toys or extra pacifiers -- when distress strikes.
What to look for: Is your baby the type who doesn't give up easily, whether he's trying to reach a toy or resist a diaper change? Or does he cry when he can't master a toy and tend to flit from activity to activity?
How to deal: Let your tenacious baby take a rattle to the changing table, or change his diaper wherever he's playing. Keep him engaged by increasing the complexity of his toys -- by introducing the shape sorter when the stacking ring is no longer a challenge, for instance.
If your baby isn't as persistent, do the opposite: Don't rush into toys geared to older babies. If you need to get stuff done, have lots of activities on hand to occupy him.
What to look for: Does your baby fuss at the slightest provocation: too much noise, too many people, a soggy diaper, or cold crib sheets? Or is she seldom set off by changes in her environment or routine?
How to deal: Keep the environment soothing whenever possible for your sensitive baby: low lights, soft music, and not too much company at once. Talk to her in a low voice, and avoid too much activity before bedtime or she may have extra trouble settling herself.
If your baby is more thick-skinned, check her regularly to make sure her diaper's clean and she's comfortable. These babies may not even react much to pain, so they may become subdued or lethargic when sick rather than cranky or irritable.
Regardless of your baby's early inclinations, try not to get too caught up with labels in the first few months. Almost all temperamental traits can be positives when you learn to work with your child's particular constellation. That's what's known as goodness of fit: the ability to accept your child and help him adapt. In the end, it's your perceptions and reactions to his traits and behavior that will go a long way toward shaping your baby into a happy, well-adjusted child -- which in turn will bring you more satisfaction. The part of the mother-child bond that makes you want to feed and protect him is in place even before birth, but the real strong love evolves as you get to know and read each other and become secure in your abilities.
From The Babytalk Insider's Guide to Your Baby's First Year: Expert Advice That Tells It Like It Is -- Plus the Secrets That Nobody Else Reveals. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY. All rights reserved.