Parenting Your Child's Temperament: Part One
Tips on how to understand and accept your child's temperament
A Word of Caution!
Although learning to distinguish temperamental traits will ultimately help you understand and work with your child’s temperament, it is important to note that over a third (35%) of the children in Chess and Thomas’ study did not fit neatly into any of the three groups. If you are confounded by your child’s behavior, you might be tempted to assign them to one of these categories and say, “So that’s why she acts this way, she’s difficult.” Doing this might initially assuage your confusion, but it can also cause you to misread or inadvertently ignore your child’s needs.
Labeling your child is also hurtful and counterproductive. Calling your child “difficult,” “shy” or even “easy going” makes it hard for them to see themselves as anything else. Distilling the totality of a child down to a single adjective is like describing a smooth, gooey chocolate ice cream cone as “cold.”
What Makes Your Child Tick?
Collecting accurate information about your child’s temperament takes time. Carey suggests watching your child over the course of four to six weeks. Keep a notebook on hand to jot down what you see. If you are at work for much of the day, let your childcare provider know what you are doing. Although they are unlikely to have the time to take notes, they can provide important insight.
When you are with your children, observe them in a variety of situations at different times of day; eating, playing with friends, watching television, doing their homework and, if possible, while they sleep. Try not to focus only on the behaviors that bother you. Adopt a neutral, non-judgmental stance that includes your child’s positive, joyful reactions.
Some temperamental traits are easier to spot than others. “Approach/Withdrawal” or how your child reacts to new penguins…I mean people… is relatively obvious. “Quality of Mood”, however, can be less clear-cut since fatigue, hunger, or illness can temporarily affect one’s disposition. If you are unsure about a particular trait, keep watching. Over time, patterns will emerge. After a few weeks, you should have a much clearer picture of your child’s true temperament.
Is Temperament Genetic?
Despite a growing body of research, there is no definitive answer to why children are endowed with certain temperamental traits. But studies suggest that it is at least partially genetic. This does not mean that two shy parents are destined to have shy children, or if you have trouble finishing tasks your child will too. In fact, researchers have no definite way of predicting a child’s temperament based on that of their parents (siblings, even identical twins, can have very different temperaments).
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