Understanding your Child’s Temperament

Understanding your Child’s Temperament

The first article in the Positive Parenting series I am writing for SuperMama.  Click for the English and Arabic versions of the article.

Ask any parent and they’ll tell you the joys of being a parent are priceless. Still, parenting is one of the toughest jobs out there. Understanding your child’s behavior can help make everyday situations and disciplining easier for you. The first step to that is understanding your child’s temperament.

Temperament isn’t something your child chooses or that you created. Each child is born with his own natural style of interacting with the people and environment around him. This uniqueness is evident from birth; some babies are quiet while others loudly demand attention. Children in the same family can have different temperaments as well. These temperamental differences mean that each child has different needs and parenting can’t be a “one size fits all” scenario. Temperamental traits usually stay with the child into adulthood and differs from personality.
Recognizing your child’s behavioral patterns that are influenced by temperament can help you anticipate  your child’s reactions to certain situations. Additionally, it can help you decide on the best way to deal with your child’s needs.

Temperament Types & What you can do:

There are generally three different temperament types. Most children can easily fall into one of these categories while others show a combination of these patterns.

  • Easy or flexible children are usually happy, calm, adaptable, have regular sleeping and eating habits, a generally positive mood and are interested in new experiences.

What you can do: You may need to make special time to talk about your child’s feelings since your child might not naturally demand that due to her easy style. Make sure you spend enough play time and talk to your baby who may be naturally quiet. She will still need all the early experiences of social interaction and communication to help her develop.

  • Active or “difficult” children are often active, fussy, more likely to be irregular in feeding and sleeping habits, are more fearful of new people and situations and are easily upset by noise and commotion.

What you can do: Give your active child opportunity to work off his energy. Give choices (usually limit them to two options) to reduce conflict. For example, give a choice of wearing the blue or red sweater while getting dressed. Make sure to prepare your child if the situation  will change to make transitions easier. Such as, letting him know it’s almost bedtime and giving him time to prepare for that instead of expecting him to immediately put away his toys and go to bed. Try giving your child tasks to help move from one activity for the other. Such as, brushing his teeth before going to bed. Remember to explain to your child what’s happening, this can make activities like diaper changing and getting dressed much easier once your child knows what to expect and understands his role.

  • Slow to warm up or cautious children are usually inactive, they tend to withdraw or respond negatively to new experiences. However, they slowly become more positive and adjust with continuous, positive and supportive exposure.

What you can do: Your child may need more time to adjust to new situations and people. Make sure to give her enough support and time to feel comfortable enough to venture out. Change can also be difficult to handle, try to give your child enough notice that a situation will be changing. For example, let your child know when it’s almost time for dinner and she has to put her toys away soon, that way she has enough time to prepare herself to move on to the next activity. Routines are also important and a source of comfort, they help children feel in control of their surroundings. Remember not to force your child if she’s not ready. Comfort  and support are much more effective ways to helping her feel secure enough to explore her surroundings.

Parenting with Temperament in Mind

  • Avoid comparing him to other children. Remember that your responses can help adapt his temperament. A timid child can become more comfortable with a supporting parent.
  • Communicate limits and decisions clearly. Involving your child in setting rules will help make routines and transitions easier as well as help your child develop self control.
  • Be aware of your own temperament and try to adjust yourself to your child. This doesn’t mean changing who you are, but realizing that your child enjoys experiencing the world in a different way.
  • Finding activities to bond and understanding your child’s actions which are very different from your own can be a struggle. Those feelings are OK and it’s important to communicate them with your partner.

Remember that there is no “right” or “wrong” temperament. Even though some temperaments might be easier to deal with than others, it’s still one of your child’s unique qualities. It’s important that your child feels  loved the way she is. Remember, the goal isn’t to change your child, but to help nurture her unique strengths and to deal with difficult situations.

Listening to your Child

Listening to your Child

How many parents have thought about taking a moment and listening to their child? If you have, how often have you actually gotten down to your child’s level and listened to his thoughts and ideas? It can be difficult for parents to find the time and energy to listen to young children, especially in times of conflict or stress. Even though we might spend most of our time directing or talking to children, listening is also an important part of communication. It a great way to help you understand how your child thinks and feels and encourages her self-expression and independence. By listening to your child you send the signal that her thoughts, ideas and feelings matter.

Different stages of your child’s development require different means of listening from infancy through the early years.


Infants typically need parents to listen to their cues and signals. It’s important to observe your baby and learn her expressions of anger, frustration and happiness. By learning your baby’s cues and signals you can respond quickly and appropriately to her needs. Infants learn from reoccurring experiences, as you consistently respond to her this in turn helps her feel secure in knowing her caregiver is available in times of distress as well as understanding that her actions cause certain reactions from you.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

At this age your child is developing more complex feelings of emotions as well as a burst of words to help express herself. Your child still needs your help in regulating these emotions and expressing thoughts and ideas. However, she’s also starting a stage of independence where her self-expression matters. It’s important to effectively listen to your child which in turn will foster her independence, self-confidence, self-expression and critical thinking skills. Here are a few practical tips you can implement.

  • Talk about feelings: Acknowledge your child’s feelings when sad or angry, “I can see you are feeling sad”. Validating and respecting your child’s feelings is the first step to letting your child know that her independent thoughts matter.
  • Offer comfort. Sometimes young children need to have their feelings validated but can’t express themselves yet. Just like infants, learn to read your child’s cues and signals and offer appropriate comfort when needed.
  • Actively listen to your child: Listen to your child without interruption and let her take her time to express herself, younger non verbal children may need your help by asking questions about what happened or elaborating on their statements. Make sure you refrain from subjective statements, try to be as objective as possible when helping your child out. After your child is done make sure you understood correctly, restate your child’s thoughts as she stated them. This shows your child that you did actually listen to her point of view. Try to avoid judging your child’s opinion.
  • Ask questions to get more information: “what happened” “How did you feel when he took the ball from you”. Follow-up questions help acknowledge your child’s feelings and help you understand how your child is feelings.
  • Have your child propose solutions: In situations of conflict you can encourage your child to propose a new solution to the situation. This typically works best with older children who are able to express themselves easily and understand the concept of consequences. Remind your child of your general house rules and suggest she pose a solution. She may truly surprise you! If the solution conflicts with your house rules simply mention that and start over. Let your child carry out the solution and follow up with her if she feels it’s working out or not. If not, then discuss the reasons and go back to negotiating a new one. This strategy helps foster your child’s independence, self-help skills as well as learning about consequences and compromise.
  • Try to avoid objecting to your child’s opinion too soon: Give your child ample chance to explain before saying No. If possible offer a series of questions that allow your child to reach this conclusion on her own.


Points to Remember

  • Choose appropriate techniques for your child’s age and abilities. It can be quite frustrating for a 3 year old to have to come up with a solution or readily express herself using long sentences. This is behavior is more appropriate for a 5 year old. Try one or two word sentences and yes/no questions with your younger child.
  • Try to find the reason behind certain misbehavior. Is your family going through a stressful time or significant changes? Moving, having a baby or starting school are all things that could cause your child to start acting out.
  • Use simple language when speaking to your child. Your child might get lost if you use long and complex sentences. Try to be concise and to the point using simple words that your child can easily understand.
  • Get down to your child’s eye level. This does wonders to the conversation. Your child feels she has your full attention and is more willing to communicate and listen to you.
  • Offer choices. If things get complicated or you’re dealing with a young child, offering choices can be a good solution. Limit them to two choices to avoid confusion and make sure you can follow through!

Read More On..

Great Resources on Listening

Picture from E>mar

Empathy and Mirror Neurons

Amazing video on how Mirror Neurons are such an important aspect in our life and development.  From babies modeling their parents, a toddler learning from observation, how it teaches us empathy and how we can spread that empathy to the world. The results of genetic studies that have proven that the 6.8 billion inhabitants of the world come from 2 humans “genetic Adam and Eve“.

Check out this post for ideas on how Mirror Neurons contribute to your baby’s development: Having Fun With Your Newborn


New Findings On Autism

New Findings On Autism

Autism is a neural disorder that is characterized by impaired social skills and communication. It is a part of a broader condition Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) which also includes Asperger Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD-NOS).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 110 children born today is autistic.

In August 2011, Time magazine ran two interesting stories on new findings regarding Autism. One story For Siblings of Autistic Kids, Risk Is Far Higher Than Thought by Bonnie Rochman covered a study conducted by University of California, Davis (UCD) Mind Institute investigated the risk of an infant with an older sibling with Autism. Researcher Sally Ozonoff found that among 664 children that were monitored in the U.S. and Canada the risk of the disorder was approximately 19 percent, significantly higher than previous beliefs of 3-10 percent.

The study showed that infant male siblings were 3 times more likely to have autism than younger girl siblings. Moreover, younger siblings with more than one older sibling with autism were almost 1.5 times more likely to have autism than those with only one older autistic sibling.

The study followed infants’ development beginning at 6-8 months till they reached 36 months, at which time they were tested for autism. Of the 664 children, 54 were diagnosed with autism and 78 were diagnosed with PDD-NOS.

The study addresses the questions many parents of autistic children have “What is the risk of my younger child being autistic?“. However, these findings should not scare parents but to make them more aware. It also highlights the importance of closely monitoring younger siblings of autistic children for early signs of autism.

The other article Autism’s Lone Wolfby Judith Warner covered interesting findings in a study by Simon Baron-Cohen et al., one of the founders in the field and director of the Autism Research Center at the University of Cambridge. Baron-Cohen and team hypothesized that an area that included large number of “systemizers” (people who tend to focus on controlling and building systems and how they work) might lead to a higher prevalence of Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) in their children. This stems from Baron-Cohen’s idea that systamizing, deficits in empathy or the capacity to experience feelings being experienced by another person, existed in Autistic people and with a lesser degree in many of their relatives. His theory was that this brain type would be common in a population that included large clusters of people with very strong science, tech or math skills.

The team investigated if ASC was more common in the (Information Technology) IT region of Eindhoven in the Netherlands than in other areas (Haarlem and Utrecht) of similar size and socioeconomic profiles that do not include similar numbers of IT companies or workers. Eindhoven includes many high end IT facilities including Eindhoven University of Technology, High Tech Campus Eindhoven which includes companies like Phillips, ASML and IBM.

Diagnostic information on  62,505 children was investigated. As the team predicted ASC seemed significanlty more prevalent in the Eindhoven region (229 per 10,000) compared to findings in Utrecht (57 per 10,00) and Haarelm (84 per 10,000). The study cautions that more follow-up research is needed to rule out factors like the possibility of increased awareness about autism in Eindhoven. Accorrding to the article “Baron-Cohen also warns strongly against drawing simple conclusions about who should or shouldn’t marry whom”.

These findings are a major step in helping us understand more about autism and it’s causes.

For Concerned Parents

Below is a list from Early Signs Inc. on red flags of Autism Spectrum Disorder to watch out for in your baby.

Impairment in Social Interaction:

  • Lack of appropriate eye gaze
  • Lack of warm, joyful expressions
  • Lack of sharing interest or enjoyment
  • Lack of response to name

Impairment in Communication:

  • Lack of showing gestures
  • Lack of coordination of nonverbal communication
  • Unusual prosody (little variation in pitch, odd intonation, irregular rhythm,
    unusual voice quality)

Repetitive Behaviors & Restricted Interests:

  • Repetitive movements with objects
  • Repetitive movements or posturing of body, arms, hands, or fingers

More information on early signs and symptoms is available at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Autism Speaks Early Signs page.

Reading On Autism
Autism Spectrum Disorders by Chantal Sicile-Kira 
“Was the recipient of the 2005 Autism Society of America’s Outstanding Literary Book of the Year Award. A supportive and personal book that includes a detailed resource section. Practical and informative, straightforward and easy to read, the facts are illustrated throughout with quotes from people who have autism, and stories of parents’ experiences and professionals’ opinions. Geared towards the general public as well as parents and professionals, Autism Spectrum Disorders has been acclaimed as a highly accessible book by experts in the field and has become “the” handbook on autism.”
” Focuses on the challenge posed by the isolated child to teachers and classmates alike in the unique community of the classroom. It is the dramatic story of Jason-the loner and outsider-and of his ultimate triumph and homecoming into the society of his classmates. As we follow Jason’s struggle, we see that the classroom is indeed the crucible within which the young discover themselves and learn to confront new problems in their daily experience.”

The Marshmallow Test

The Stanford Marshmallow Test was conducted in 1972 by psychologist Walter Mischel of Standford University. The purpose of the experiment was to study when the control of deferred gratification, the ability to wait in order to obtain something that one wants, develops in children.

Each child was placed in a room with no distractions with just a table, chair and a treat (the marshmallow) and explained the rules. The children could eat the marshmallow if they wanted but were promised if they waited and didn’t eat it for 15 minutes they would get another marshmallow as well. Children developed self distracting methods like counting, covering their eyes or kicking the desk.

The outcome of the study showed that age does determine the development of deferred gratification. Furthermore, follow-up studies showed that children who had better impulse control “were described more than 10 years later by their parents as adolescents who were significantly more competent”

This explains a lot to parents about why their toddlers seem so emotional and are prone to tantrums. Another interesting fact is that the part of the brain in charge of impulse control is located in the frontal lobes, which isn’t developed until children are 9 and continues to develop till the age of 21!

So, now that we understand why toddlers and preschoolers act this way. How can we help?

  • Give your baby a responsive and predictable environment. Your baby will learn that the environment is safe and her brain will focus on learning from new experiences.
  • Remove temptations. Now that we understand that some actions, like telling your toddler over and over again not to touch the vase yet she still runs over to touch it every time, just can’t be controlled. You can make life easier for your child and yourself by removing tempting objects from your child’s reach to minimize conflict situations.
  • Give your toddler independence and words to express himself. During this age your toddler is developing a feeling of independence and autonomy. Allow him to do things for himself and help around the house to develop his sense of confidence.  Also, help him identify feelings and words that express those feelings  “I feel sad” “I’m angry he took my toy”. Use situations when your child is going through tough emotions to label those feelings “I know you feel sad…” “You look happy, I see a big smile on your face”. This will help your toddler express himself and help avoid frustration in already difficult situations.
  • Help your child figure out solutions. Once your child is able to communicate with you and other children you can help her solve conflict on her own. Take your child through these simple steps when a conflict arises. 1. What is the problem? 2. What does your child think would be a good solution? 3. Does this solution suit everyone? 4. If not? then what else do you propose? 5. Finally, go through with it.

You may need to act as a moderator in the beginning and help propose solutions, but by just going through the steps you’re giving your child a way to express herself,  regulate her frustrations and develop her problem solving skills. Pretty soon you’ll only be supervising this procedure and lending a hand once in a while your child handles things on her own.

  • Explain the consequences. By explaining to your child the reasons behind rules and the consequences for misbehavior you are telling him what to expect and what you expect quite clearly. This helps your child develop self-regulatory skills and learn to manage his own behavior.
  • Model self controlling behavior. This is a technique that can be used in almost anything, you basically can’t ask your child to behave a certain way if you are behaving the absolute opposite. If you expect your child to be calm and self controlling then you should be as well! Try to count to 5 before rushing to correct your child, make sure you are calm and you speak in a low tone. your child will follow your example!

Remember that any “mistakes” your child does are all part of her learning experience. Your role is to be a supportive and positive guide and assistant. Make sure you try approach situations with a positive attitude especially if your child is having a difficult moment.

Read More On..

Handling your child’s temper tantrums here