The cuddliness of a newborn baby can’t be beat but the fun continues as your baby grows and becomes more interactive. It’s so fascinating to see their little (or big!) personalities evolve.
Likewise it can also be frustrating when their temperament results in baffling or challenging behaviour….
As Dietitians and mamas we know that babies’ and toddlers’ personalities don’t shut off when they come to the table. Today we’re going to go through different dimensions of temperament and how they may affect feeding your baby.
What is Temperament?
Temperaments are essentially your natural first reaction to the world around you. They’re widely thought of as innate (i.e.: you’re born with them) and don’t change easily, although they can be modified through different experiences.
We all have them. Your baby does and so do you, as their caregiver! If your temperament is wildly different from your baby’s, then it may be extra challenging to relate to their behaviour.
Simply knowing and understanding that people react to the world in different ways can make a world of a difference in your feeding relationship with your baby.
You’re likely familiar with the concept that some people are more introverted while others are more extroverted. This trait isn’t a dichotomy but rather exists on a continuum.
It’s the same with these traits:
- Activity Level
- Biological Rhymicity
- Approach or Withdrawal
- Attention Span and Persistence
- Intensity of Reaction
Let’s take a closer look at each of these and how they might show up at the high chair!
Some babies are content to be sat down with a few toys and play contentedly while other babies are always on the move! These babies are motivated to figure out how to get from point A to point B as soon as humanly possible and once they can, they don’t stop moving!
For a baby who’s less active, they may be more content to sit in their high chair and patiently explore food. For a baby who’s more active, they may get restless easily. These babies may benefit from having more opportunities to explore the world of solid foods throughout the day.
Do you find that your baby does better when you stick with consistent naps? If so, your baby may have a highly regular biological rhythmicity. We all have internal signals for hunger, sleeping, and bowel movements. For some people these cues run on a very predictable 24-hour schedule. For other people, these signals occur more randomly throughout the day.
If your baby has a highly regular biological clock, then sticking to a more rigid feeding schedule may work best and increase their felt-sense of safety that food is coming. But if your baby’s biological clock is more variable, then allowing for some flexibility in meal times and watching for your baby’s cues of hunger may serve your baby best.
Sometimes planning out all those meals, snacks, and naps can feel confusing! If your baby does best on a schedule but you’re not sure where to even start implementing one, then check out our free guide with sample feeding/sleeping schedules for babies aged 6,7, 8, 10, and 12 months old.
When I think of distractibility, the first thing that comes to mind is Dug, the dog from the movie Up, who will lose focus whenever a squirrel is sighted.
We all have our own level of distractibility. Some people are able to tune out their environments in order to focus on what they’re doing. Other people have a harder time with this.
For babies who are just learning the skill of chewing and swallowing different food textures safely, we recommend eliminating as many distractions as possible so they can focus all their attention on what’s going on in their mouth.
Distractions include but are not limited to the TV, toys, and pets.
Removing distractions is even more important for feeding success for those babies who are highly distractible.
Tip: if your feeding space is close to baby’s toys, simply place a bed sheet on top!
This personality characteristic refers to the speed at which someone will adjust to new situations. Some people will jump right into new scenarios while others prefer to linger around the edges and get a feel for the situation before joining in.
Starting solids definitely qualifies as a ‘new situation!’ Remember, your baby is learning to eat. Our Start Solids Confidently e-course can gear you up with everything you need to know about this transition.
This personality trait is so evident when starting solids that we’ve even come up with our own nicknames.
Uber Cautious: these are the withdrawal kiddos who prefer to take time to explore this whole new starting solids thing.
Early Adopters: these babies embrace the solid food journey from the very first bite. They eagerly try seemingly any food you put in front of them. You likely see these babies all over social media.
Slow and Steady: as we mentioned, personality traits exist on a spectrum. Between each end, you’ll find a group of babies. Some foods might be instant hits the first time they’re exposed to them while slow and steady children may also initially be a bit more cautious when offered new foods but will gradually learn to like them over time.
This one is similar to approach/withdrawal because it has to do with the speed at which a person adjusts. But with adaptability, it’s more about a sudden change in plans or transitioning from one activity to another. You’ll see this play out more as your baby grows into toddlerhood but some kids do fine when you say “it’s time to leave the playground!,” while other kids need more preparation about this change.
For the kids who are less adaptable, it’s really helpful to have a pre-meal routine. This helps their brains and bodies transition from one activity to the next. You can include things such as handwashing, a prayer, or singing a song to signal a transition. For toddlers, a visual routine chart could be supportive.
Attention Span and Persistence
How focused does your child remain at accomplishing a task, even after being met with an obstacle?
My mom (it’s Jessica here) tells a story about when I was a toddler and she brought me to a friend’s house for a coffee date. While they were chatting, I sat there figuring out how to put a puzzle together. Her friend expressed amazement at how I kept working at it, even though it may have been a bit above my usual skill level, because she knew her daughter would have abandoned the puzzle for something else.
The more positive word for this character trait is persistence but you may find yourself wanting, as a parent, to label it ‘stubborn!’
A persistent baby who wants to feed herself may refuse to accept help… even though her motor skills aren’t quite developed enough yet to prevent most of the food ending up on the floor.
On the other hand, a baby who scores low on the persistent scale may give up easily and prefer to be spoon-fed for the rest of her life. For these babies, they may need some encouragement to work on their self-feeding skills.
Intensity of Reaction
We call this one The Drama Queen/King Meter. If your child reacts intensely, it may appear to you that their reaction is blown out of proportion for the situation. These kids simply experience life as a roller coaster of emotions. There’s no middle ground.
For kids on the other end of the spectrum who react mildly, they may be feeling something on the inside but aren’t expressing it outwardly. It may be hard to read what’s going on with a child who reacts mildly.
When it comes to feeding, babies who react intensely may show strong reactions to new flavours and it may look as though they don’t enjoy them but they do. It’s important as caregivers, to try and remain neutral so that babies don’t form an opinion based on our reactions.
While it certainly has its challenges too, life is more fun because we’re all uniquely wired! Taking a little time to observe how your baby reacts to the world is all part of being a responsive caregiver!
We hope this article has provided you with a few ‘aha’ moments as you reflect on your own child’s temperaments.
All that to say, these are just a few examples of how personality can affect feeding. We’d love to hear: how have you noticed your baby’s personality show up at mealtimes?