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Discuss the Associations Between Temperament and Child Adjustment

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Discuss the Associations Between Temperament and Child Adjustment

Modern theories of child development are the result of centuries of change. At the time of the 17th century enlightenment, new philosophies and important conceptions of childhood emerged. Most prominent was John LockeЎ¦s ЎҐtabula rasaЎ¦ idea (Berk, 2003) of the child as a ЎҐblank slateЎ¦ on entering the world and whose character was shaped by subsequent experiences. Today it is appreciated that social development reflects more than just environmental influences and furthermore, that children are individuals from birth on. Temperament is a conceptual tool for describing and understanding early-appearing individual differences in behaviour (Wachs & Bates, 2001). The word temperament comes from Latin and refers to the mixing of ingredients, and consequently, temperament is seen as a set of traits and not a trait itself. There is not a universally agreed upon definition of temperament although a working definition proposed by Bates (1989, as cited in Wachs et al, 2001) ЎҐbiologically rooted individual differences in behavioural tendencies that are present early in life and are relatively stable across various kinds of situations and over the course of timeЎ¦ is accepted by most temperament researchers. The concept of temperament returned to psychological research most prominently in the 1960Ў¦s and the temperament model developed by the psychiatrists Thomas, Chess and Birch (1968, as cited in Berk, 2003) is the most widely used construct in temperament literature and has stimulated extensive research activity.

Thomas et alЎ¦s (1968, as cited in Berk, 2003) model consists of nine dimensions of temperament, including; activity level, rhythmicity or regularity of body functions, distractibility to external stimuli, approachability to new stimuli, adaptability to changes, attention span, intensity of reactions, threshold of responsiveness and quality of mood. In their New York Longitudinal Study initiated in 1956, a total of 141 children were followed from infancy to adulthood. Detailed descriptions of infants and childrens behaviour were obtained from parent interviews and certain characteristics yielded together producing three types of children. The ЎҐeasy childЎ¦ constituted 40% of the sample and was quick to establish regular routines, cheerful and adapted to new situations well. The ЎҐdifficult childЎ¦ constituted 10% of the sample and was characterised by irregular routines, intense negative reactions and slow adaptability. Finally, the ЎҐslow to warm up childЎ¦ constituted 15% of the sample and was predominately inactive, reacted mildly to new stimuli and was slow to adapt.

This essay attempts to discuss the associations between infant temperament and adjustment in childhood, focusing specifically on adjustment problems and childrens behavioural outcomes. Foremost we will discuss whether we should expect linkages between temperament and later adjustment before then focusing on two longitudinal studies; Thomas et al (1968, as cited in Berk, 2003) and Guerin, Gotfried and Thomas (1997). Long term longitudinal studies are sole research designs in illuminating out understanding of early predictors of development and the latter part of the essay will focus around the results of these two studies.

At the most basic level, temperament represents an individuals emotional style. Thus we would expect it to be associated with behaviours that emotions organise. For example, temperamental characteristics of interest and persistence should be related to learning and cognitive performance and characteristics such as irritableness and inhibition should link with variations in social behaviour. To the extent that differences in temperament influence the types of reactions elicited from others and the environmental ЎҐnichesЎ¦ individuals select into, we should even further expect temperamental associations with later social adjustment. For example, an inhibited child would be likely to engage in anxious behaviours around peers, thus discouraging interaction. Less experience with social interactions would mean that over time they would become less likely to respond to such interactions appropriately. This would stabilise their temperament, leading to an increase in social isolation.

However if we do take the stance that early temperament should predict later adjustment we are making a number of important assumptions. Firstly, that temperament is relatively stable over time and secondly, that individual differences in temperament will automatically elicit stable patterns of reactivity from others and promote stable patterns of niche selection. These assumptions will be considered in turn. McDevitt (1986, as cited in Berk, 2003) found that measures of temperament made in the first three months of life exhibit no stability over time. Perhaps this is because over the first year of life the meaning

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