I can remember sitting with my twin daughters, trying to figure out how one could be so easy going, easy to please, and agreeable, while the other was on the opposite of spectrum. I spent countless hours trying to make sense of how two people so much alike could be so different. They were the same gender, same age, and same biologically, but the biggest difference between them was their temperament. Through the process of parenting, I learned that my responses and techniques would need to be different to address the uniqueness of both children. Understanding a child’s temperament can help reduce the stress of parenting.
When parents understand how their children react to certain situations, they can learn to anticipate issues that might present difficulties for their child. They can prepare their child for the situation or in other cases they may be able to avoid a difficult situation altogether. Parents can learn to tailor their parenting strategies to the particular temperamental characteristics of the child. Parents often feel more effective as they more fully understand and appreciate their child’s unique personality.
Children are born with their own natural style of interacting with or reacting to people, places and things. This is called their temperament. In the late 1950’s, researchers identified nine temperament traits or characteristics. They found that
these nine traits were present at birth and continued to influence development throughout the life cycle. Temperament is different from personality, which is really a combination of temperament and life experiences. Think of temperament as a set of in-born traits that help organize your child’s approach to the world.
There are nine recognized temperament traits. Each temperament has a description and parents are encouraged to rate their child on a scale from 1-5.
- Activity level. How active is your child? Are her movements quick or slow?
- Adaptability. How quickly does your child adjust to changes in life? How quickly does he/she adapt to new people, places, foods or things?
- Approach. What is your child’s first reaction to new people, places, or experiences? Is he/she eager for new experiences or reluctant?
- Distractibility. Is your child easily interrupted by things going on around him? Does he continue to work or play when noise is present?
- Intensity. How much energy does your child use to express emotions? Does he/she laugh or cry vigorously? Or, does he/she smile and fuss mildly?
- Mood. What mood does your child usually display? Do
es your child see the world as a pleasant place?
- Persistence. How long does your child continue with a difficult activity? Can he continue when frustrated? Can he stop when asked?
- Regularity. Does your child have a predictable internal cl
ock? Does he/she generally get hungry, sleepy, or have bowel movements at the same time every day?
- Sensory threshold. How aware is your child of his/her physical world? How sensitive is she/he to changes in sound, light, touch, pain, taste, and odor?
Understanding that these inborn behavioral tendencies are not the result of bad parenting is perhaps one of the most important insights parents gain from learning more about temperament. I wish I had known about the importance of temperament when my children were growing up. I can look back now and see why there were some struggles.
Writer: Kathy Green, Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Clark County, Top of Ohio EERA
Reviewer: Shannon Carter, Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Fairfield County