Temperament: what is it?
Temperament is the way children respond to the world.
You can think about your child’s temperament in terms of how much or how little they show of these three qualities:
- Reactivity: this is how strongly children react to things like exciting events or not getting their own way. Reactive children tend to feel things strongly.
- Self-regulation: this is how much children can control their behavior, including the way they show their feelings. It’s also about how much children can control their attention and how persistent they are.
- Sociability: this is how comfortable children are when they meet new people or have new experiences.
Adapting your parenting for your child’s temperament
You can’t change your child’s temperament. Your child is who they are, and that’s great.
But you can nurture your child’s development by adapting your parenting to your child’s temperament. You can help your child develop the positive parts of their temperament. And you can understand the situations that your child might find hard because of their temperament, and help them learn how to handle these situations.
Here are some ideas for adapting your parenting to your child’s temperament.
Parenting more and less reactive temperaments
If you have a very reactive child, your child is probably a lot of fun when something good happens. But your child might also be loud and dramatic when they’re unhappy about something, like not getting their own way. You might need to help your child learn how to respond more calmly – for example, by relaxing and using words for angry feelings.
Reactive children are often also very physically active and might need lots of time outdoors. You can help your child develop by encouraging them to try new sporting activities, for example. But your child might also need help winding down, so bedtime relaxation can be a good idea.
A less reactive child is usually easy to get along with, but might be less assertive. You might need to help your child learn how to stand up for themselves. For example, if you notice situations where your child could be more assertive, you could get your child to practise handling those situations differently.
Children who are less reactive might also be less physically active. Your less active child will be happiest with plenty of opportunities to use their fine motor skills, like doing craft or drawing. But you might need to encourage physical activity.
Parenting more and less self-regulated temperaments
Children who find it easier to self-regulate are good at staying calm when they feel emotions like frustration or excitement. They can calm down faster after something exciting or upsetting, and they’re less impulsive.
A child who’s very self-regulated might also be more able to manage their attention. For example, they might be likely to keep going with something until it’s right. They might also be good at coping with setbacks and able to get through tasks like homework without much supervision. But they might be a bit of a perfectionist, so make sure they know that it’s OK to make mistakes.
If your child has difficulty regulating their attention, they’ll need lots of encouragement to keep going at difficult tasks. These children might switch easily from one activity to another. They can also be very creative. To help your child focus, you can try rewarding your child or making things fun by using games and creative activities.
Parenting more and less sociable temperaments
If your child is very sociable, they’ll like being around other people, having playdates and doing group activities. But you don’t have to organise playdates and activities for your child all the time, because it’s also important for your child to learn to occupy themselves.
If your child isn’t very social, they’re probably quite good at playing by themselves and might not need much help finding something to do. But you might need to help this child with making friends. If your child isn’t comfortable in groups or at parties, for example, you could try asking just one or two friends for a playdate at your house or the park.
If your less sociable child isn’t very adaptable, they’ll like having a regular routine, and might not cope well with changes. This can make it easy for you to plan things around your child’s routine, but your child might also need help coping with changes or transitions.