Discovering your child’s temperament Previous item I suspect it is hard to... Next item Strong-willed children...

The strong-willed child, usually observable very early on. Constantly on, constantly challenging the status quo, and constantly testing boundaries in an attempt to learn information about their world.

I am a mother of a strong-willed child. Very early before his first birthday, I had some clear clues about his temperament. Let me tell you about him.

On the way home from the hospital he cried nonstop, which was a big surprise for me since I had an absolutely different picture in mind. He started walking around 7 months in a walker. A couple weeks later he was running with it with absolutely no assistance from anyone. Bumping, falling, bruising himself. He wore a helmet in the house because of never-ending falls from the tops of furniture. Outside he wore a leash because he was always on the go.

At 13 months, we bought him a balance bike. At 18 months, I couldn’t keep up with him anymore. At 2 years old, he was biting and hitting other kids as well as us, his parents, and grandparents. Today, age 2 ½, he is licking windows and the dirty floor at the store even when he has been asked not to do it.


When I think of his behavior, the first thought that comes to mind—CAUTION!!!

That’s my boy with his unique style of behaving. It can be shaped and molded with proper guidance, but the tendency to behave a particular way remains the same. Temperament is not caused by environmental factors, but it does interact and interplay with nature (inborn traits) and nurture (parenting).

In spite of a child’s temperament, parents can teach their children to express themselves in appropriate ways.

Temperament is a blueprint for behavior, and we don’t fix that. I think most parents can predict their child’s behavior in a specific situation. Since we know how our child will react to a situation, we do not fight or give in, but develop effective strategies for guiding and shaping behavior.

My child’s temperament trait is a high energy and activity level. I cannot change or fix that. However, an extra pillow on the floor when he jumps down from the couch, or a helmet, or a leash when he runs fast without paying attention to the obstacles on his way, gives him freedom to express himself fully. I work with the nature of my child with some adjustments to it.

Research by Drs. Alexander Thomas, Stella Chess, and Herbert Birch of New York University identified nine characteristic temperament traits that are present, in varying degrees, in all children. These nine traits proved to be relatively stable predictors of how a given child responds at different times and in different situations.

Let’s put the puzzle pieces of your child’s temperament in place. Remember, all children show these traits in varying degrees. Please rate the nine temperament traits of your child’s behavior on a scale from easy to difficult to manage.

These traits include:

1. Persistent. Children show individual differences in how long they persist with tasks or resist the limits they confront. How long does your child stay with a task? How stubborn is your child when he wants something? How resistant is your child when he confronts limits?
2. Intensity. Some children react in mild and quiet ways when they are happy or upset, while others react intensely. How does your child respond when happy or frustrated?
3. Regularity. Some children settle into routines quickly and maintain regular patterns whereas others show variability and irregularity. How is your child regular with his eating, sleeping, toileting, and other habits? Can he adjust to a schedule?
4. Distractibility. Some children can stay focused for a long time, and others are easily distracted. How long can your child stay focused? Does he easily get distracted?
5. Energy and Activity level. Some children are energetic and highly active, and others are passive and subdued. How active is your child? Does he seem to be in high gear? Can he downshift into a lower gear when the task requires it?
6. Sensory. Some children are highly sensitive and reactive, and others are less affected by sensory stimuli. Is your child highly sensitive to odor, taste, changes in temperature, the texture of clothing, sounds, bright lights?
7. Adaptability. Some children adapt easily to changes, such as leaving for school or entering the classroom after recess, and others find changes stressful and upsetting. How does your child handle change? Are transitions in the day easy or stressful?
8. Reactivity. Some children move into new situations without hesitation, while others stand on the sidelines and join in gradually. How does your child respond to new situations or people?
9. Mood. Some tend to be positive and cheerful, some serious and analytical, and others cranky and negative. How would you describe your child’s basic disposition?

Have you begun to get a picture of your child’s temperament? What does your child’s temperament profile look like? How many traits go under difficult to manage? One? Several? Many? The more your child has, the harder your job.

The good news: Once you understand your child’s temperament, you can predict your child’s behavior. You are a step closer to matching your child’s temperament to more effective guidance tools.

I would love to hear from you. Please share your child’s temperament profile with me, and we can work on finding more effective methods or tools to discipline your child.

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