Temperament is the way that a child approaches and reacts to the world. A child’s temperament begins at the day of birth and carries us through the rest of our lives. Researchers categorize temperaments into three different categories: easy or flexible, active or feisty, and slow to warm or cautious. However, not all children fall neatly into these three categories. In these categories, children range in intensity. Even if two children have the same temperament
Why is temperament important? And how does it effect my parenting/caregiving style?
While no two children are the same, something can be said for determining each child’s temperament. When I first started working with young children, I made the grandiose assumption that if I taught in a certain way, all children would respond appropriately. Oh, how naive.
Temperament is important because it helps parents and caregivers to better understand each child’s differences. You can learn how to solve problems before they occur and avoid frustration. For example: if you know your child has a hard time transitioning from home to the grocery store, you might adjust the time you give him to prepare himself for this transition.
Before we go on, I want to emphasize that not one temperament is better than others. It is vital to respect and value each child’s temperament.
Temperament traits to help you better understand your child:
Activity level – always active or generally still
Biological rhythms – predictability of hunger, sleep, elimination
Approach/withdrawal – response to new situations
Mood – tendency to react with positive or negative mood, serious, fussy
Intensity of reaction – energy or strength of emotional reaction
Sensitivity – comfort with levels of sensory information; sound, brightness of light, feel of clothing, new tastes
Adaptability – ease of managing transitions or changes
Distractibility – how easily a childʼs attention is pulled from an activity Persistence – how long child continues with an activity he/she finds difficult
If my child is generally easy and flexible, I should:
- Use language to help your child develop an understanding of emotions and feelings. Recognize and validate those feelings
- Encourage your child to seek help if they need it. Work with them to communicate feelings and needs. “Jack, if someone is about to take your block, say, ‘stop, I am using that.'”
If my child is generally active and feisty, I should:
- Provide safe and clean areas for your child to engage in active play to expend high levels of energy.
- When preparing children for transitions, give this child special attention by bending to the child’s eye level and making sure they understand what is about to happen next.
- Label your child’s emotions. “Wow, you look angry because your mouth is frowning and your eyes look sad. It seems like you really wanted to play with Jack. “
- Stay calm when faced with the childʼs intense emotions. Acknowledge the feelings and also the point when the child regains control.
If my child is generally slow to warm and cautious, I should:
Predictable environments and clear routines are important to this child. If necessary, you may want to use pictures to remind your child of what happens next.
- When establishing relationships, provide ample time to get them comfortable with new people and new situations.
- Provide words that encourage exploration and increased independence.