Why are some children easy going and others are, what we might call, more “challenging”? Why are siblings so different from one another? It all comes down to temperament.
Temperament is innate, something we are born with. It’s part of the unique wiring of each individual’s brain. Your child did not choose their temperament, and they are not the way they are because of something you did or did not do –although the experiences and interactions with other people during the early years could modify it.
By the school years, your child’s temperament will be well defined and easily detected by those who know them. It probably won’t change a lot in the future. As we mentioned before, these characteristics are innate, something your child is born with, and are separate from your own parenting skills. However, the way your little one adjusts to their environment does depend a lot upon the interaction between their temperament and yours, and how the people around them respond to them. A child that is comfortable in their environment and the people around them thrives!
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are nine key characteristics that make up temperament.
- Activity level: What’s your child’s level of physical activity in day to day life? Are they restless or fidgety, or more calm?
- Rhythmicity or regularity: Do they have a consistent pattern for basic physical functions such as appetite, sleep, and bowel habits?
- Approach and withdrawal: How does your child initially respond to a new stimulus? Are they rapid and bold, or slow and hesitant to warm up to it? It can be people, situations, places, foods, changes in routines, or other transitions.
- Adaptability: How easily does your little one adjust to change or a new situation? Can they modify their reaction well?
- Intensity: With what energy level does your child regularly respond to a positive or negative situation?
- Mood: Is your child generally pleasant or unfriendly in the way they communicate and act? What’s their general mood like?
- Attention span: Is your child able to concentrate or stay with a task, with or without distraction?
- Distractibility: How easily can they be distracted from a task by environmental stimuli?
- Sensory threshold: How much does your child need to be stimulated for a response? Some children respond to the slightest stimulation, and others require intense amounts.
By being aware of some of the characteristics of temperament, you can understand your child in another level, learn to accept them, and, more importantly, appreciate their uniqueness. Then, starting from that point, you can deal with problems in a way that is more sensitive to them, fostering a healthy social and emotional development.
Keep your child’s temperament in mind when you make parenting decisions. The goal is not to change them, but to help them adapt and thrive. Make sure you let them know you accept them for who they are through your words and actions.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2009). How to Understand Your Child’s Temperament. Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages- stages/gradeschool/Pages/How-to-Understand-Your-Childs-Temperament.aspx
Zero to Three. (2016). Temperament: What Makes Your Child Tick. Retrieved from https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/159-temperament-what-makes-your-child-tick