Tag Archives: Temperament

Your Unique Child

In my classes this month, we’ve talked about “Your Unique Child: the Influence of Temperament, Gender, and Learning Styles on How you Parent Each Child.”

The key takeaway points from our discussion on “Your Unique Child” are listed below, and I’ve included links to other posts on these topics.

  • Children are born with distinct personalities. We can use concepts like Temperament, Learning Style / Multiple Intelligences and Gender and Introvert / Extrovert to help us better understand them.
  • However, we don’t want to “label” our children (as “the shy one” or “the wild one” or “the musician”) because that limits our view of them and limits their ability to grow and develop into all that they are.
  • There are not good or bad temperaments. But, there are goodness of fit, and badness of fit. A high activity child has “goodness of fit” on the playground, but not in the library. A very regular, routine-oriented child might “fit” well with a similar parent, but not so well with the free-spirited parent.
  • It’s good to know your children’s strengths, so you can give them plenty of experiences that let them use those strengths to build their confidence.
  • It’s also good to know what your child struggles with. On a good day, we may gently push their comfort zones to encourage growth in those areas. But, on a day when we’re tired and they’re tired, or we’re away from home, it may be easiest to adapt to their temperament accommodating how we need to in order to make it through the day. (So, our sensitive child may need a quiet day at home. Our active child may need a day running at the park. Our routines kid needs to bring routines from home wherever he goes.)

Lots more resources on temperament listed here.

More thoughts about temperament

In a recent post, we looked at toddler temperament and how it effects parenting. I listed 9 different temperament traits – for each one you might list where your child lies on the continuum.

Some researchers and authors have tried to distill these down into four common types, or five common types. Check out the categories below, and see if you think any of them describe your child.

Clusters of Traits

When researchers looked at the 9 categories, they observed three common “clusters” of traits.

Easy Child, aka Flexible – 40%. This child is predictable, open to new situations, extremely adaptable, positive mood, average activity level, and don’t over-react to stressors. An easy child can fit into any environment, is likable, and helps the adults around him/her to feel successful. The downside is that this child can be overlooked or forgotten in a crowd when attention is focused on kids with ‘problems.’

Slow to Warm Up, aka Fearful or Cautious – 15%. May have low activity level, be afraid of new people and new situations, slow to adapt to change, sensitive, and serious. With too much pressure, this child has melt-downs. On the other hand, if he’s never pushed, he may never make any progress. With preparation, support, and gentle, respectful encouragement, this child can do well. This may require a lot of patience on the part of the caregiver who will need support from peers to manage their frustrations.

Difficult, aka Feisty – 10%. Fussy, unpredictable, with-drawing, hates change, negative, and has intense reactions to things that disturb her. This child is exhausting to all around, leaving caregivers angry, resentful, incompetent, confused. This child can be hard to like, and tends to get negative feedback from those around him. Looking for the child’s positive traits and helping to bring those out, and reduce the impact of the negative traits will help over time. Caregivers need breaks from the child, and support for their challenges.

35% of kids didn’t align with any of these clusters of traits. Some have proposed adding the “Active” child, who is similar to the easy child in many ways (positive mood, not over-sensitive) but can be so active he exhausts his caregivers. This child benefits from LOTS of physical activity. It doesn’t mean that you don’t ever take him places where he needs to sit still (church, movies, etc.). But before going to those places, you may stop by the playground to run off some energy!

Tracy Hogg’s 5 types

The Five Temperaments

You may also run across information about the “5 temperaments” from the work of Tracy Hogg author of Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers. Here’s how those types line up with the 9 traits.

Angel Toddler: Moderate energy, predictable, approaches new situations easily, very adaptable, less intense reactions, happy, easy to distract from no-nos. Adapts well to any style of parenting.

Textbook Toddler: Moderate activity, VERY predictable, can be shy at first but quickly adjusts, loves routine (low adaptability), low sensitivity, moderate moods, moderately persistent. Likes routines.

Touchy Toddler: Not regular / predictable, slow to warm up to new situations, not adaptable, HIGH sensitivity, intense reactions, very low distractibility / high persistence.  Needs structure/predictability.

Spirited Toddler: VERY active, bold in new situations, moderate sensitivity, high intensity, high persistence. Needs clear limits, and an outlet for their energy.

Grumpy Toddler:  Active. Sensitive, intense reactions. Negative mood / hard to please. Needs space, control/choices.
To learn more, go to www.ivillage.com/five-toddler-temperaments/6-a-144861; or take a quiz to determine your baby’s type: www.babywhispererforums.com/index.php?topic=52283.0;wap2

Here’s a list of all the sources I used for my two posts on temperament:

Recommended overviews

Your baby’s temperament, The parent-baby fit http://www.todaysparent.com/baby/baby-development/your-babys-temperament/

Why Time-Out Doesn’t Work for All Kids and Other Secrets From Temperament-Based Parenting at http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Why_Time_Out_Doesnt/

Recommended online quizzes – include customized tips for how to parent a child with your child’s temperament

The Ready for Life temperament quiz (www.readyforlife.org/temperament/quiz/start)

The Infant Toddler Temperament Tool (IT3) http://www.ecmhc.org/temperament/index.html.

Other sources I used

Tips for creating a “Goodness of Fit” between a child and his parents and environment: http://centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/child-development/unique-child-equation/temperament/understanding-goodness-of-fit/

Goodness of Fit Worksheet for Both Parents to complete: http://parents2parents.ca/files/pages/Goodness_of_Fit_Worksheet_P2P.pdf

Parentmaking. Rothenber, et al. 1995.

How to parent with different temperaments. www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/how-to-parent-with-different-temperaments/

“Temperament and Goodness of Fit” – http://resources.childhealthcare.org/cocoon/dtw/temperament.html


Parenting your child’s temperament: http://www.babyzone.com/kids/discipline/child-temperament-part-one_73349?page=3

What kind of temperament does my baby have? http://resources.childhealthcare.org/details.do;jsessionid=9E410BA3645AF819662AB5F47E8856EF?id=8121

Is your child’s temperament a good fit with yours? www.deseretnews.com/article/765573111/Is-your-childs-temperament-a-good-fit-with-yours.html

The Importance of Temperament: https://www.childdevelopmentmedia.com/importance-of-temperament-in-infants-and-children-chess-thomas

Early Childhood Temperament Sorter: http://parentingbytemperament.com/earlychildsort.php. Note: this is a GREAT tool for parents of children age 4 – 8. It offers a quiz to determine your child’s type and your own type, and then tips on how to manage both. Not really suited to a toddler.

Understanding Your Child’s Temperament

From the day they’re born, our children are individuals, with distinct preferences and unique ways of being in the world and interacting with others. One way to understand and explore these differences is through the lens of Temperament. Temperament traits are the inborn, instinctive way that we respond to stimuli and environments. As parents, understanding our child’s temperament helps us both to accommodate their needs – helping our day-to-day lives go more smoothly – and also to gently challenge them to learn flexibility and other ways of responding.

There are three steps to applying temperament to our parenting:

  1. Learn about your child’s temperament
  2. Learn about your own temperament and about whether you and your child are naturally a “good fit” or whether you’ll need to work harder to understand each other
  3. Tailor your guidance and discipline methods to find a parenting style that suits your temperament and meets your child’s needs

One caution before we get started: Avoid “labeling” your child. Distilling all the joys and challenges of your child’s personality down to one label means missing part of the magic that makes them unique and special. Also, once a child is labeled as “difficult”, or “shy”, or “hyperactive” it tends to shape everyone’s interactions with the child, and may make it harder for the child to move beyond that label to develop all the sides of her personality.

9 temperament traits

In the 50’s, Chess and Thomas developed a theory of 9 inborn traits. Think about each of these, and where your child falls on the spectrum of that category.

Activity level: is your child always on the go, so full of energy that it’s hard to keep up? Or is he more laid-back, likely to sit quietly, and move slowly?

Regularity / predictability: In terms of biological functions, does your child eat, sleep, and have bowel movements at the same times each day? Or is there little pattern or predictability?

Approach or withdrawal in new situations: Is your child bold and enthusiastic, always willing to explore, try new activities and meet new people? Or is she shy, clingy, hesitant to try something new, and only comfortable with something after many exposures / much repetition?

Adaptability: Does your child move easily from one activity to the next and adapt quickly to changes in his environment? Or does any transition in activity, or disruption to his daily routine, upset him?

Sensitivity / Threshold of Responsiveness: Is your child easily startled by sudden sounds or disturbed by bright lights, uncomfortable clothing, and unusual smells? Or is your child blissfully unaware of things that trouble others?

Intensity of Reaction: How strongly does your child respond? Are all her reactions big – either ecstatic or miserable or outraged? Or is she pretty mellow and low-key – content or bummed or annoyed?

Quality of Mood: Is your child generally happy and optimistic, smiling and laughing easily, recovering quickly from disappointments? Or is your child moody, negative, serious, or difficult to please?

Distractibility: Is your child easily sidetracked, and easily distracted from what she’s doing? Or does he tend to stay focused on one thing for a long time, ignoring what’s happening around him? (Remember that for a toddler, a “long time” may not seem very long to us as adults!)

Persistence: Will your child pursue the same activity for a long time – even if he’s frustrated by something, he’ll keep on trying? Or does your child lose interest in things quickly, moving on right away if something starts to frustrate her?

After reading through this list, do you have a better sense of how your child reacts to his world?

Please remember: A child’s temperament is neither good nor bad. For example, a persistent child can be exhausting as parents try to distract him from things like electrical cords, but that same child may someday excel in school, pushing through any difficulty until succeeding at an assignment.

Understanding your child can improve your interaction. For example, if you have a child with low adaptability, who struggles with transitions, and with a tendency to withdraw in new situations, then you adapt your parenting. For example, if next week you’ll be going to a company picnic at a park your child has never seen, you could talk to your child about it in advance, bring along familiar toys to comfort her, give her space to retreat back to your reassuring arms, make sure she’s well-rested and well-fed, and so on. You could even go to the park this week and get familiar with it without the added pressure for her of meeting several strangers at the same time. These steps accommodate her temperamental needs. But, you won’t give up on taking your child new places! You’ll need to gently challenge this child to grow and build the skills to be more adaptable and more adventurous over time, and give her the tools to calm the anxiety she naturally faces in these situations.

Your temperament

Once you’ve examined your child’s temperament, think about your own. (And your co-parent’s temperament.) Where are you similar to your child? Where are you different?

Goodness of Fit:

Sometimes a child’s temperament is a good match for his environment, which may make him seem like an “easy” child, and make it easy for parents to feel successful – this is “goodness of fit.” Sometimes a child’s temperament is not compatible with the expectations of her environment, and this makes her seem like a “difficult” child and makes the parents feel overwhelmed and incapable of good parenting.

The child’s ‘environment’ is composed both of the social rules and expectations of a particular setting, and the people around him, who all have their own temperaments which influence their interactions. If a child with a high activity level and high intensity level is on a trampoline with his high activity level parent, that’s a goodness of fit, and everyone has a good time with peals of laughter. But, put that same child at library story time, or pair that same child with a low activity level parent who has a high level of sensitivity and is easily overwhelmed by noise and activity, and nobody has a good time.

If you often feel like your child is hard to manage, or you’re often frustrated by behavior that just doesn’t make sense to you, it may be that you and your child have a temperament mis-match. Learning more about your own temperament and about hers, and thinking about how to adapt your usual approach to better match their needs may lead to less conflict. For example, if you really value your own persistence and enjoy focusing on one thing for a long time, but your child is very distractible and gives up and moves on to a new activity whenever anything is challenging, you may find yourself frustrated in the moment, and also worrying about long-term issues like success in school. Can you shift your expectations for how long your child will stick to one activity? Can you learn to appreciate what she gains by moving through a range of experiences? (And yes, over time, you will work with her to gently build her attention span and persistence.)

If, on the other hand, you generally feel like your child is easy to relate to, but certain situations really set him off, consider whether some aspect of his temperament is at play. For example, your child may be happy and easy-going most of the time, but whenever you go somewhere that is very loud and busy, he clings to you or tantrums or hits other children. This may be a child who tends toward withdrawal in new situations and is highly sensitive to his environment. You could reduce problems with some creativity: for example, you might go to a fair as soon as it opens in the morning, leaving before it gets crowded and loud. Or go to the zoo on weekdays when there will be fewer people. Or take your child to the special “mom’s day at the movies” screenings – they turn the volume down lower than it is typically played. When going somewhere for the first time, you may need to accept that your child may only want to be there for a short time before he needs to retreat back to home territory. As your child gets older, you’ll work to help him learn ways to cope with being over-stimulated, and how to calm himself in those situations, but you won’t try to do that on a day when he’s sick or tired or hungry!

Understanding the influence of temperament on how your child responds to his environment and how she reacts to the people she encounters can help you smooth things over when needed, and guide you in understanding where your child most needs your help to develop skills that don’t come naturally.

For more information

Recommended overviews

Tips for creating a “Goodness of Fit” between a child and his parents and environment: http://centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/child-development/unique-child-equation/temperament/understanding-goodness-of-fit/

This summary worksheet from Amiable Home is a really excellent overview of temperament types and ways that parents can respond to their unique child: https://bellevuetoddlers.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/38588-temperamentchart.pdf

Guides to Supporting Certain Personalities

Recommended online quizzes

The Ready for Life temperament quiz (www.readyforlife.org/temperament/quiz/start) not only allows you to score your child’s temperament traits, it then yields a collection of customized parenting tips. For example: “Tips for Working with a Child Who Is Very Persistent: Alert teachers that she often needs some notice to be able to stop her activity and move on. Encourage family members not to give in to her wants all the time. Allow him to keep unfinished projects somewhere to complete after dinner, chores or other activities. Repeat and continue songs, games and books until she is satisfied. Remember he is not stubborn, just persistent and that can be a good thing!”

The Infant Toddler Temperament Tool (IT3) http://www.ecmhc.org/temperament/index.html. Scores both you and the toddler. Then gives you customized “Goodness of Fit” Recommendations. For example: “Your child is less adaptable, you are highly adaptable. Here are some ideas to support the fit between you… Try to establish a normal daily routine. Try not to introduce too much too fast. A new child or teacher in the classroom might be scary or confusing for him, so react sensitively. Allow him to not participate in a new experience if he/she is having difficulty adapting.”

I will list the rest of my sources in my next post.