Interest in personality is growing in a wide range of disciplines, but only in a few systems it is possible to assess the survival value of personality. Field studies looking at the relationship between personality and survival value early in life are greatly hampered by the fact that personality can at present only be assessed after individuals become independent from their parents. In passerines, for example, this is often after a period of intensive selection for the survival on fledglings. The main aim of this study is therefore to develop a method to measure personality before this period of selection. For this purpose, we developed the handling stress (HS) test. We measured HS in 14-d-old great tit nestlings by counting the number of breast movements (breath rate) in four subsequent 15-s bouts for 1 min; before and after they were socially isolated from their siblings for 15 min. To calculate the repeatability of HS, we repeated the test 6 mo later. To assess the relationship between HS and exploratory behaviour, we correlated the outcome of both tests. We ran tests both on birds of lines selected for extreme personality and on wild birds from a natural population. We found that birds selected for fast exploration reacted more to HS compared with birds selected for slow exploration and that HS was repeatable in different life phases. We confirmed this by finding an increase in the HS with increasing exploratory scores in wild birds. These results show that we can use the HS test as a measurement of personality, making it a potential tool for studying the relationship between personality and survival value early in life.