Child development theories say that understanding child temperament goes a long way in parenting your child with ease. We’re all born with a type of temperament. Learn how to figure out your temperament and your child’s temperament and change your parenting for the good — immediately.

Temperament describes the way you approach and react to the world; it's your "personality style." While understanding temperament doesn't define or predict behavior, understanding your own and your child’s temperament can help identify strengths and supports necessary to succeed in relationships and environments.

Rhonda Richards-Smith, LCSW, is a mental health and relationship expert with over 10 years of experience helping people improve their personal lives, relationships with others and overall mental health. Smith says, "No two children are the same, even if they're raised in the same household with the same parents. It's so crucial that we abandon the notion of "one-size-fits-all" parenting. As parents, it's important that we tune into how our children experience, view and absorb the world around them." Understanding temperament is one way to do this.

Identifying temperament

To identify temperament you have to do one thing: observe. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning identifies eight traits to tune into. Think back to when your child was approximately 6 months old. What was her:

  • Level of activity
  • Adaptability to daily routines
  • Response to new situations
  • Mood
  • Intensity of reactions
  • Sensitivity to what was going on around her
  • Speed to adapt to changes
  • Distractibility or persistence when she was engaging in an activity

Based on these traits, these researchers generally categorize children into three temperament types:

  1. Easy or flexible — Easy or flexible children tend to be happy, regular in sleeping and eating habits, adaptable, calm and not easily upset.

  2. Active or feisty — Active or feisty children may be fussy, irregular in feeding and sleeping habits, fearful of new people and situations, easily upset by noise and stimulation and intense in their reactions.

  3. Slow to warm or cautious — Slow to warm or cautious children may be less active or tend to be fussy, and may withdraw or react negatively to new situations; but over time they may become more positive with repeated exposure to a new person, object or situation.

While not everyone falls into one category or another, most of us lean toward one descriptor even as adults. And while we all vary in intensity, most of us can see ourselves and our children in one of these. We're born with our temperament and it's our underlying personality. We can, however, change and mold based on parenting style and environment.

Using what we know to parent better

So what do we do with this information? Smith says, "As parents it's critical not to label the temperament of one child as better than another." Rather, we use temperament to better understand our children's — and our own — behavior and to better support both.

The CSEFEL says, "By understanding temperament, caregivers can learn how to help children express their preferences, desires and feelings appropriately. Caregivers and families can also use their understanding of temperament to avoid blaming themselves or a child for reactions that are normal for that particular child. Most importantly, adults can learn to anticipate issues before they occur and avoid frustrating themselves and the child by using approaches that do not match her temperament."

Tips for temperament-based parenting

  • For the easy or flexible child, ensure that you often check in with her and initiate communication about her emotions. She might be less likely to demand attention and make her needs or distress known. Consider encouraging her to seek help when she needs it and work with her to communicate her feelings and needs to others.

  • For the active or feisty child, be prepared to be flexible and patient in your interactions. A child who is feisty can experience intense emotions and reactions. Consider providing opportunities for her to make choices and engage her in gross-motor and active play to expend high-energy levels. Feisty children might need a peaceful environment in order to help them calm themselves and transition from playtime to quieter times.

  • For the slow to warm or cautious child, provide additional preparation and support for new situations or people. Consider setting up a predictable environment and sticking to a clear routine. Primary caregivers — who can provide a secure base to all children — are particularly important for a cautious child. Help her in unfamiliar situations by observing her cues carefully and providing support and encouragement for her exploration and increasing independence.

The bottom {temperament} line

Identifying temperament is one way to get to know yourself and your child. Use this information to support both of you as you maneuver day-to-day interactions, change and new situations and people. While temperament isn't fixed, it is always there, so embrace it as-is!

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