Does your child prefer staying with you at the park while your neighbor’s little one dives into the sandpit where half a dozen other children are already having fun? Does your child love to go to school while your neighbor’s child hates it? These differences arise because each child has their individual temperament.
Temperament refers to the way a child reacts to what is happening around them. It is essential for parents to understand their children’s temperament and tweak the parenting style accordingly to turn these individual differences into assets.
Keep reading as we tell you all you need to know about temperament in children.
Are Children Born With A Temperament?
Yes, every child is born with their unique temperament. It may make them similar to their siblings or very different from them, but no two children will react in the same way to the same situation. You may be able to gauge your child’s temperament from a very early age. For example, some babies may cry aloud when they need their parents, while others may search around for them quietly and seem distressed (1).
There is no right or wrong temperament, so you should not try to change your shy child to an extrovert or your extroverted child into an introvert. However, you can try to help your child learn how to tweak their responses to different situations. Remember that childhood temperament shapes adult behavior, so guiding your child in the right way can help make them confident, successful adults. Experts point out that children learn how to control their temperament more appropriately as they grow (2) (3).
Types Of Temperament In Children
1. The easy-going child:
- Usually upbeat and positive
- Welcomes changes with curiosity
- Does not get upset easily
- Not inclined to get frustrated or give up quickly
- Moderately active
2. The slow-to-warm-up child:
- Hesitant to meet unfamiliar people
- Wary about new situations
- Gets anxious when exposed to new things
- May suffer from separation anxiety
- Generally shy in interactions
3. The difficult child:
- Reacts intensely and emotionally
- Can be very stubborn
- Prone to losing their temper and throwing tantrums
- Does not like new people
- Does not take well to unfamiliar situations
- Not pleased easily
- Finds it tough to get along with peers
Remember that each temperament type comes with its advantages and special character traits that can become valuable assets. For example, a shy child may approach potentially dangerous situations with caution and, thus, stay safe. On the other hand, a difficult child may show extreme determination to achieve goals that other children give up midway.
Also, note that some children may have a combination of these qualities and not fit into any specific category.
How Can Temperament Affect Your Child?
Temperament governs how each child responds to people and situations around them. Here are a few reasons that indicate how temperament plays a significant role in how your child learns from the world and how others respond to them. You can see the impact clearly in the child’s day-to-day activities and behavior.
- A shy child may be able to amuse themselves with ease without supervision at an early age.
- How people respond to and interact with the child also hinges upon their temperament. You will find children gravitating more towards a cheerful, active child than a shy, reserved child.
- Temperament also affects how your child approaches schoolwork or chores. A shy child will be unwilling to participate in group activities but very keen to do solo projects such as coloring or drawing.
- An easily distracted child may find it challenging to focus on their books for long but may be able to pick up cues from their surroundings very well.
- An easy-going child gets along well with strangers, so it is easy to find a caretaker for them.
- A so-called ‘difficult’ child may show extreme perseverance in tasks they set their mind to.
Temperament Traits In Children
In 1977, researchers Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess carried out an extensive study about children’s temperament through numerous interviews with parents of little children. They came up with nine traits of temperament that are present in babies, in one form or the other, since birth (1) (4) (5).
- Activity level: This refers to how much movement or bodily activity the child does. A highly active child cannot sit still in one place for an extended period without getting restless. They like to run around, splash around in the pool, and generally enjoy any physical activity they do. A slow-to-warm-up child may prefer quiet games and can stay involved in a simple activity, such as coloring or reading, for long periods. They may also take time doing regular tasks, such as dressing or building blocks or switching from one physical activity to another.
- Sensitivity: This refers to how easily the child reacts to sensory information, including light, sounds, textures, smells, and tastes. Highly sensitive children can be affected by small changes in their environment. They may complain that the birds chirping outside distract them or that the bedsheet is too rough. Even small changes can affect their ability to concentrate. On the other hand, children with low sensitivity, may overlook environmental changes and be slow to register them. For example, they may overlook the ringing of the phone next to them.
- Rhythmicity or biological rhythms: This refers to the presence or absence of a regular pattern for the child’s normal functions, such as hunger, sleep, and bowel movements.
- Approach/ Withdrawal: This refers to how children respond to a new stimulus or new situation. Bold children are curious about new things, new places, and new people. They may embrace change quickly. Cautious children tend to wait, watch, and then react to new situations. They do not warm up to strangers quickly or attempt to try new things as soon as they are introduced to them. They show a clear liking for routine and exhibit a negative reaction if disrupted.
- Adaptability: This refers to how easily the child gets accustomed to changes. Adaptable children take changes in their stride. They can quickly adapt to a new routine, new friends, or new faces. This child also gets more easily influenced by behaviors they see. Children whoare rigid stress out and face a difficult time when they have to deal with a new situation or change, but they are less likely to be influenced by other people’s behaviors.
- Mood: This refers to the child’s usual demeanor. Children go through a gamut of emotions throughout the day depending on many factors. But each child shows a clear preference towards being positive or negative overall. A child with a positive, cheery personality makes friends more quickly and is easy for teachers, caregivers, and peers to talk to. A more moody child can make for a more challenging child for caregivers to deal with. They may also be more prone to fussing, crying, or resisting others.
- Intensity: This refers to the energy level with which the child responds to situations. Some children tend to express spontaneously and emotionally and may cry or laugh aloud at things instead of frowning or smiling. Every reaction, to them, tends to be more heightened. On the other hand, other children could go through the same emotions but express them in a much more subdued manner.
- Persistence/ attention span: This refers to how long a child can hold their attention towards one activity and how persistently they can carry out something. A persistent child with an extensive attention span can stay involved in the same activity for long hours without losing interest. This child can react badly if made to quit the activity abruptly. For the child with a low attention span, their focus can often shift away from an activity very quickly. They are also more likely to give up an activity if it is complicated or tedious.
- Distractibility: This refers to how easily a child’s attention diverts when distracted by noise or other environmental stimuli. The child who is highly distractable quickly invests a few moments in taking note of an interruption before either going back to what they were doing or switching to a new activity. They are always aware of everything going on around them. A child who is not easily distractible may zone out noises and other interruptions and only focus on the task at hand. While they can concentrate fully on their activity, they may miss out on necessary cues around them.
How To Deal With Children’s Temperaments?
While you cannot change a child’s temperament completely, you can help them deal with it better so that they are better equipped for life. For example, an easily distracted child can be taught to focus more on academics or sports. A shy child can be encouraged to talk to school peers and make friends. To make parenting easy on yourself and get these outcomes, you should know how to make adjustments to your approaches.
- Encourage positivity: Your child’s temperament has both advantages and disadvantages. Help them leverage the advantages to the maximum so that the impact of the disadvantages is minimized. Teach them how to tweak their approach to certain situations so that they have a better experience. For example, explain to a shy child how making new friends gets them the chance to play games that need more than one player.
Focus on the positive aspects when you want them to do something different from what they typically do. Try to look at the positive aspects of their personality traits. For instance, a shy child is just someone who likes to be more cautious about new situations, and an easily distracted child is curious about many things and likes to explore.
- Never compare: No two children are the same, so do not expect your younger child to have the same personality traits as your elder child. Always talk about how it is their individuality that makes them special. Avoid comparison with siblings or other children at all costs.
- Always encourage: Encouraging your child to do something against their temperament is not wrong when it is meant to help them develop new skills. A shy child can be gently persuaded and motivated to go out and talk to new people or new children in the park. The important thing is to offer plenty of encouragement and lavish praise for taking even a tiny step forward.
- Remember it won’t last long: As the child grows, the temperament also evolves. Do not worry that a child who is hesitant to meet new friends will stay that way all their life. You can encourage them to get over the shyness enough to interact with others and with time. Do not overstress and put unnecessary pressure on the child to do something that is alien to their very nature.
- Never force change: The child does not decide what their temperament is. They are born with it. Forcing your child to change their personality to match others is unfair, and it puts a lot of pressure on the little one. It also makes the child feel like they are not good enough. Instead, encourage your child to overcome their inhibitions on their own and step out of their comfort zone at their own pace.
- Remember that your child is not you: Are you frustrated with your child because they are not as sociable as you were? Are you scared about their academic success because you were a very focused child, but they aren’t? Put these thoughts aside and focus on the unique traits that make your child such a special individual. Always remember that your child is not a mirror image of you. They have their own temperament and preferences, and your job as parents is to nurture those.
Temperament traits are inherent parts of your child’s personality. You can help your child leverage the advantageous traits and tweak the others to learn essential skills. All you need to do is understand your child’s temperament and adapt your parenting strategy to match it. This makes it easier for you to handle and gently guide the child’s responses, moods, and overall behavior and raise a confident young adult.
2. Infant temperament predicts personality more than 20 years later; National Institutes of Health
3. Understanding Your Child’s Temperament; Public Broadcasting Service
4. Temperament; The Hospital for Sick Children
5. How to Understand Your Child’s Temperament; American Academy of Pediatrics
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