Talking about Temperament

 

Temperament is the natural disposition of a person – a combination of mental, physical and emotional traits.  It is not reflected in occasional behavior, but is a pattern that is consistent over time.  Temperament can be thought of as the built-in wiring a child has from birth.  Temperament is generally described by a constellation of nine characteristics and each person – even children born to the same family – will have each of these nine characteristics in different proportions.

Activity Level  -

This trait is characterized by the amount of body movement one spontaneously generates.  A child with this trait at a difficult level will be very active, restless and fidgety, would rarely slow down and would hate to be confined.  Sitting still at a desk or the dinner table is very hard for this child.

 

Quality of Mood  -

This trait is characterized by the amount of pleasant and cheerful behavior (positive mood) one exhibits as contrasted with fussy, sad, and unpleasant behavior (negative mood.  A child with this trait at a difficult level might be cranky or overly serious and may appear to get little pleasure from life.  Getting along with peers may be difficult for this child.

 

Approach/Withdrawal –

This trait looks at how a person reacts to new people and new experiences.  A child with this trait at a difficult level is likely to be shy and clingy and may stubbornly refuse to go forward in new situations.  This child may struggle with school refusal and making new friends.

 

Rhythmicity (Biological Regularity) –

This trait looks at a person’s eating, sleeping and elimination habits.  A child with this trait at a difficult level might get hungry and tired at unpredictable times making regular meal and bed times a source of conflict.  This child may be hard to potty train.

 

Adaptability –

This trait is characterized by how quickly or slowly a person adapts to change in routines or overcomes an initial negative response.  A child with this trait at a difficult level is likely to be anxious and resistant to changes in schedule, food or clothing.  He/she can be inflexible and particular which may be a source of stress when unexpected events occur in the family or classroom.

 

Sensory Threshold –

This trait looks at how sensitive a person is to sensory stimuli – particularly unpleasant stimuli - in the environment (e.g. noise, lights, smells, tastes, the weather, pain, etc.)  A child with this trait at a difficult level will be easily bothered by the way food or people smell, how clothes feel, and the brightness of lights.  This sensitivity can cause irritability and a lack of focus.

 

Intensity of Reaction -
This trait is characterized by how strongly one reacts to situations – it is the amount of energy of mood expression one puts out whether positive or negative.  A child with this trait at a difficult level would be loud and forceful in all emotional responses.  This can result in confusion and irritation from others who expect a more subtle response.

 

Distractibility –

This trait looks at how easily one is distracted by unexpected stimuli.  A child with this trait at a difficult level will likely have trouble concentrating and paying attention, may tend to get lost in his/her own thoughts rather than listening, and often forgets instructions because he/she was only half paying attention.  This can create difficulties in school and be a source of stress at home.

 

Persistence (Attention Span) -

This trait is characterized by how long a person will stay at a difficult task without giving up.  While persistence can be a very useful trait for many things, a child with this trait at a difficult level is likely to be extremely stubborn, will not give in, and might persevere in a tantrum for an hour or more.

 

Using the chart below rate your child for each of these characteristics as E (easy), M (moderate), or D (difficult.)  Then rate yourself.

 

Trait

Your Child

You

Activity Level 

E               M               D

E               M               D

Quality of Mood

E               M               D

E               M               D

Approach/Withdrawal

E               M               D

E               M               D

Rhythmicity

E               M               D

E               M               D

Adaptability

E               M               D

E               M               D

Sensory Threshold

E               M               D

E               M               D

Intensity of Reaction

E               M               D

E               M               D

Distractibility

E               M               D

E               M               D

Persistence

E               M               D

E               M               D

 

When children have one or more traits described as difficult, they can be a challenge, but the challenge will be exacerbated if their caretaker’s temperament does not provide a good fit.  For example, a child who reacts intensely in all situations (i.e. is rated D in the Intensity of Reaction trait) might be difficult for a parent whose sensory threshold is low (i.e. the parent is rated D in the Sensory Threshold trait).  A child with a difficult (i.e. high) activity level might cause conflict with a parent who has an easy (i.e. low) activity level.  And a parent and child who are both extremely persistent (i.e. on the difficult end of this trait) may find themselves in chronic power struggles.

 

Much of parenting is understanding what is going on for our children and being proactive as often as possible to keep things running smoothly.  Temperament and each of these individual traits is an ingrained part of our and our children’s personalities.  We might not be able to change them, but we can choose how we react to things we cannot change.  Accepting our children for who they are, realizing our inherent contribution to conflicts with them, and finding ways to celebrate their uniqueness – even when it occasionally drives us crazy – will reduce conflict and tension.

 

Adapted from Conscious Discipline, 7 Basic Skills for Brain Smart Classroom Management, Dr. Becky Bailey, 2000