Children are exposed to lots of exciting, new experiences as they grow and develop, especially in the first few years. They are learning to express feelings and emotions, engage in positive social interactions, and adjust to new situations. How children learn and react to new situations and the world around them is referred to as temperament.
Temperament is an important aspect of social emotional health, and it’s one of the many things that makes each one of us special and unique. All of us, adults and children alike, have a temperament that guides how we approach and react to our social environments.
Learn more about temperament in this blog post, as temperament can be a helpful tool to guide how you communicate and support your child.
What do the Temperament Types Look Like?
There are three types of temperaments: easy-going, slow-to-warm, and active. You or your child may not easily identify with one of these categories. Instead, think of temperament as a scale, while understanding that more often than not, children will react similarly based on their temperamental traits.
An easy-going child will generally exhibit positivity and can easily adjust to new situations. In infancy, an easy-going child may be able to quickly adapt to a schedule. Another common example of an easy-going child may be exhibited at childcare drop off. When you dropped your child off at school for the first time, did he or she have a relatively easy time adapting?
A slow-to-warm child may take a longer time to feel comfortable because he or she needs to observe the new situation. We might commonly think of a slow-to-warm child as being shy. He or she may also display less intense emotions.
A child that exhibits an active temperament may be more energetic or expressive. Additionally, he or she may have varied routines. For an active child, parents may need to bring extra activities during car rides or doctors appointments to keep him or her engaged.
The 9 Temperament Traits
As mentioned above, there are three types of temperaments, but there are also nine different traits or dimensions of temperament. Depending on your child’s temperament type, he or she will display high or low behavioral indicators of these traits.
- Activity level: General level of motor activity.
- Distractibility: Level of focus or concentration.
- Intensity: How strong or intense a child reacts to emotions.
- Regularity: How predictable eating and sleeping patterns are.
- Sensitivity: How sensitive one is to physical stimuli like sounds and textures.
- Approachability: How responsive a child is to new situations.
- Persistence: How long a child may engage with an activity when obstacles or frustration arises.
- Mood: How a child reacts to a new situation.
For example, an easy going child may exhibit higher levels of regularity and approachability, and will generally display a positive mood in new situations. An active child may have high levels of activity, but may be irregular and highly sensitive. A slow-to-warm child may have a low approachability and adaptability and a serious mood.
Keep in mind that every child is different, and may exhibit differences in dimensions depending on the circumstances. Use these dimensions as a spectrum.
Temperament and Parenting
Like your child, you as a parent have your own temperament and will exhibit behavioral traits based on the nine temperament dimensions. You and your child may have different temperaments, or you may have children who have a different temperament from each other. No temperament is good or bad. In fact, it’s what makes you and your child special and unique.
Importantly, knowing your child’s temperament can guide how you care, communicate, and support. This is referred to as “goodness of fit.” You (or a caregiver or teacher) can align your parenting style in a way that best suits your child’s temperament. For parents of multiples, this may mean parenting each child differently.
For example, if your child is slow-to-warm, you can make a point to allow for extra time at parent/child drop off, especially during the first week at a new childcare center. Your child simply needs to observe and may require more time to feel comfortable. Having you close by in new situations helps him or her to feel safe.
Temperament and Managing Behaviors
Temperament can be beneficial when managing behaviors as well. Your child may respond differently depending on his or her temperament. Requiring that your active child sit still when you are trying to talk and redirect his or her actions may be a challenge. He or she may better respond to losing a privilege.
On the other hand, an easy-going child may respond to a variety of behavior management strategies because of his or her adaptability. Again, managing behaviors means recognizing the unique needs and traits of your child.
Keep in mind that your temperament may also affect how you discipline. If you have a low sensitivity to noise but your child is very active, it may mean that you have to remind yourself often that young children like to move and make noise. Regardless of your child’s temperament, be open to new strategies when it comes to managing behaviors and other aspects of parenting.
Understanding your child’s temperament can help you create a nurturing and positive environment. Temperament allows you to recognize your child for the unique individual that he or she is. It can also foster meaningful parent/child relationships.
Temperament is just one part of encouraging healthy self-esteem. For more ways to support your child’s social-emotional development, check out our blog post on social-emotional milestones.