All rights reserved.
Mark Hutten, M.A.
Re: Understanding Your Child's Temperament

How can I better understand my child's temperament?

Some kids are "easy." They are predictable, calm, and approach most new experiences in a positive way. Other kids
are more difficult, not able to manage their emotional experiences and expression with ease. When a youngster's
personality doesn't quite fit or match that of other family members, it can be a challenge for everyone. Of course no
youngster is one way all the time, but each has his own usual type.

The ease with which a youngster adjusts to his environment is strongly influenced by his temperament - adaptability
and emotional style. For the most part, temperament is an innate quality of the youngster, one with which he is born.
It is somewhat modified (particularly in the early years of life) by his experiences and interactions with other people,
with his environment and by his health.
By the time a youngster has reached the school years,
his temperament is well defined and quite apparent to
those who know him. It is not something that is likely to
change much in the future. These innate characteristics
have nothing to do with your own parenting skills.
Nevertheless, the behavioral adjustment of a school-age
youngster depends a lot upon the interaction between
his temperament and yours, and how others respond to
him - how comfortably he fits in with his environment and
with the people around him.

Characteristics of temperament—

By being aware of some of the characteristics of
temperament, you can better understand your
youngster, appreciate his uniqueness, and deal with
problems of poor "fit" that may lead to
misunderstandings and conflicts.
There are at least nine major characteristics that make up temperament:

1. Activity level: the level of physical activity, motion, restlessness or fidgety behavior that a youngster demonstrates
in daily activities (and which also may affect sleep).
2. Rhythmicity or regularity: the presence or absence of a regular pattern for basic physical functions such as appetite,
sleep and bowel habits.
3. Approach and withdrawal: the way a youngster initially responds to a new stimulus (rapid and bold or slow and
hesitant), whether it be people, situations, places, foods, changes in routines or other transitions.
4. Adaptability: the degree of ease or difficulty with which a youngster adjusts to change or a new situation, and how
well the youngster can modify his reaction.
5. Intensity: the energy level with which a youngster responds to a situation, whether positive or negative.
6. Mood: the mood, positive or negative, or degree of pleasantness or unfriendliness in a youngster's words and
behaviors.
7. Attention span: the ability to concentrate or stay with a task, with or without distraction.
8. Distractibility: the ease with which a youngster can be distracted from a task by environmental (usually visual or
auditory) stimuli.
9. Sensory threshold: the amount of stimulation required for a youngster to respond. Some kids respond to the
slightest stimulation, and others require intense amounts.
How temperament affects kids and their parents—

Every youngster has a different pattern of the nine
temperament characteristics. Many, but not all, kids
tend to fall into one of three broad and somewhat
loosely defined categories: easy, slow to warm up or
shy, or difficult or challenging. These labels are a useful
shorthand, but none offers a complete picture of a
youngster. Many moms and dads find it more useful to
think about their youngster in terms of the nine
temperament traits.

The easy youngster responds to the world around him in
an easy manner. His mood is positive, and he is mildly to
moderately intense. He adapts easily to new schools
and people.
When encountering a frustrating situation, he usually does so with relatively little anxiety. His moms and dads probably
describe him as a "joy to be around." About 40 percent of kids fall into this category.

Another temperamental profile may reveal a somewhat slow-to-warm-up or shy youngster who tends to have moods
of mild intensity, usually, but not always negative. He adapts slowly to unfamiliar surroundings and people, is hesitant
and shy when making new friends, and tends to withdraw when encountering new people and circumstances. Upon
confronting a new situation, he is more likely to have problems with anxiety, physical symptoms or separation. Over
time, however, he will become more accepting of new people and situations once he becomes more familiar with them.

The difficult or challenging youngster tends to react to the world negatively and intensely. As an infant he may
have been categorized as a fussy baby. As a young child, he may have been prone to temper tantrums or was hard
to please. He may still occasionally be explosive, stubborn, and intense, and he may adapt poorly to new situations.
Some kids with difficult temperaments may have trouble adjusting at school, and their teachers may complain of
problems in the classroom or on the playground. When kids have difficult temperaments, they usually have more
behavioral problems and cause more strain on the mother and family.

It is important to distinguish a difficult temperament from other problems. For instance, recurrent or chronic illnesses,
or emotional and physical stresses, can cause behavioral difficulties that are really not a problem with temperament
at all.