Parenting Your Child's Temperament: Part One
Tips on how to understand and accept your child's temperament
One of my mother’s favorite stories recounts a family trip to Sea World when I was four, and my brother was two and a half. We were walking through the park when suddenly, we were approached by a man dressed in a penguin costume. I jumped behind my mother and hid my face in the folds of her skirt. In the same instant, my brother zoomed forward with his arms outstretched for a hug.
My brother and I were raised by the same parents, in the same household. We both inherited my mother’s brown eyes and my father’s chin. So why did we have such dissimilar reactions to that penguin?
According to Dr. William B. Carey M.D., the reason is likely due to differences in our temperaments. Carey is an attending physician in the division of General Pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Much of the information in this article comes from Carey’s best selling book Understanding Your Child’s Temperament.
What Is Temperament?
All children are born with a combination of in-born traits that determine how they react to the world around them. Although “temperament” and “personality” are often used interchangeably, they are not the same.
“Personality is the totality of the human being,” says Carey. “It describes how bright you are, what you are interested in, what you are capable of doing. Temperament has nothing to do with abilities or how well adjusted you are. It is the style with which you approach the world.”
Understanding a child’s true temperament can help parents solve a host of issues including temper tantrums, power struggles and problems at school. More often than not, a child’s “bad” behavior stems from incongruities between their personal style and their environment. With a few simple modifications, parents can formulate an approach that minimizes conflict and maximizes a child’s chances of social and academic success.
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