Understanding your Child’s Temperament

Understanding your Child’s Temperament

Every parent goes through a phase where they just can’t figure out how to deal with their kids. What worked for a child’s sibling might not work with him, and one reason could be the difference in their temperament. By taking time to understand your child’s temperament, you can tailor your responses and ensure a much better parent-child relationship.

Temperament, in general, refers to the part in a person’s personality which is related to his reaction to certain events, and his relationship with others. While there are several facets in an individual’s personality are acquired, a person’s temperament is believed to be something he is born with. This means that even a new-born baby has his own temperament!

A child’s temperament dictates how he reacts to different stimuli, and how he copes with unfamiliar situations. It also defines how well he responds to discipline. Trying to change a child’s temperament is an exercise in futility since it is something a child is born with. When parents use a routine or disciplinary system that goes against a child’s basic temperament, it upsets him and creates stress.

What Constitutes a Child’s Temperament?

To understand more about temperament in kids, the New York Longitudinal Study was conducted in the early 1950s by Alexander Thomas, Stella Chess, Herbert G. Birch and other scientists. They came up with nine characteristics which contribute to a child’s overall temperament.

1. Activity

This depends on how active your child is, whether he is constantly on the move, or can be considered moderately active or inactive.

2. Regularity

This is based on how well your child responds to a routine. Even as babies, they might follow a predictable sleeping or feeding pattern, or they might just do things spontaneously and suddenly.

3. Initial Reaction

This is a child’s first reaction to any new event, person or circumstance in his life. It could be open and gregarious, or it could be hesitant and withdrawn.

4. Adaptability

Some children adapt easily to new places and situations, but some are deeply affected by change.

5. Intensity

This was often referred to in the old days as ‘passion’. Some children show a cool response to nearly everything, while others may have stronger reactions.

6. Mood

This refers to a child’s natural disposition and behaviour, which could be seen as happy and pleasant, or perceived as moody and unpleasant.

7. Distractibility

This is the extent to which a child can focus on a single task single-mindedly, and how long it takes for something to distract him.

8. Persistence and Attention Span

This is different from distractibility, in the sense that it refers to how long a child persists on a task, regardless of the obstacles that may come up. Some stick to tasks, and some give up and move on to another task.

9. Sensitivity

Some children are extremely sensitive to noises and lights. Some children can sleep blissfully through a procession outside, while some will stir at the slightest noise.


How can I Identify my Child’s Temperament?

Based on how your child rates on each of the nine characteristics, Thomas and Chess suggest that s/he may fall into one of the three broad categories. Most children fall into the ‘Easy’ category, and the rest are either ‘Difficult’ or ‘Slow to warm up.

1. Easy

Such children are usually calm and happy, follow a routine and can handle change to an extent.

2. Difficult

These children are fussier; they often fidget and appear to be restless and bothered. They are easily alarmed by loud stimuli and change in circumstances.

3. Slow to Warm Up

Children in this category appear to be difficult initially, but they slowly warm up and settle into an easy temperament.

How Can I Deal with my Child’s Temperament?

The first step is, of course, to identify your child’s temperament according to the markers described above, after which you can implement a few more steps. Our society is obsessed with labeling everything, and the same goes for kids. Try to avoid labeling a child as ‘scaredy cat’ or ‘lazy’ or ‘impatient’. When a parent’s temperament clashes with a child’s nature, it can lead to problems. By understanding your child’s unique temperament, you can modify your behaviour to suit your child, so that both of you can have a better relationship and a happier household.

1. Don’t compare siblings

‘Your brother was never this much trouble!’ is a common complaint parents make. Even siblings don’t share the same temperament, so the same methods won’t work.

2. Don’t’ try to change your child

It isn’t possible to fight one’s genes, so don’t try to make your child someone he isn’t. Accept your child for the unique person he is.

3. Talk to your child

By taking the time out to actually listen to your child, you’ll be amazed at how much you can uncover about his personality. Your child will feel loved and secure, and you’ll have a better idea about his unique traits.

4. Stay calm

Your temperament might make you fly off the handle, but remember to calm down and handle the situation intelligently. Parents are their children’s first role models, so you need to practice what you preach!

5. Recognise problems, if any

Temperaments are normal parts of personality, but they could get confused with other conditions like ADHD. If your child seems extremely agitated, or uncontrollable, it makes sense to visit a doctor and rule out other behavioural problems.

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