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.