Why is caring for your 9-month-old infant so draining that you stagger through the day, while caring for your sister’s baby is smooth sailing?
Why does your friend’s 6-year-old throw noisy temper tantrums, while your own makes a fast and cheerful set of adaptations?
Why is one of your teen-age sons persistent in studying and doing projects, while the other works in short spurts and is diverted by his friends’ bantering?
Most children and adults master the trials of daily living while others, even those without psychiatric problems, fail to meet the same demands at home, at school, with peers and at work. Mental health professionals try to understand why we have such behavioral differences, and to determine interventions that will eliminate, or at least reduce, problems in functioning.
A New Understanding
Three decades ago, we blamed self-defeating behaviors on early life experiences, particularly maternal ones. Eliminating such behaviors meant rigorously exploring these early experiences. But we now can see that these answers, while simple, are inaccurate.
We know now that early experiences do not have irreversible psychological effects. At any age, life changes can lead to major behavioral changes. At the same time, many influences other than early childhood affect development. Temperament is one such influence.
We can divide the roots of behavior into three categories: 1) Motives (the”why”); 2) Capacities (the “what” or “how well”); and 3) Temperamental style (the “how”) with which people go through their daily actions.