Understanding Children’s Temperament & Behaviors

What is temperament?

Temperamental characteristics are present at birth. Temperament influences how children behave toward individuals and objects in their surrounding environments. Temperament also influences how we are affected by the environment and external circumstances. Temperament differences can help explaining the reasons why some people respond to many stresses and do well while some others have a difficult time. Differences in temperament can be seen as early as infancy. Some infants can be fussy, very sensitive to noises, easily startled or upset. While some infants are observed to be calm, mellow and can quickly adapt to regular routines. Children are born with their natural style of interacting with or reacting to people, places, and things.

Most researchers agree that temperament has a genetic and biological basis; but they also agree on environmental experiences may influence a child’s temperament. Sometimes temperamental characteristics can be very positive in certain situations and can be frustrating & challenging in other situations. Understanding a child’s temperament can help parents to interpret children’s behavior. It may also affect the parent’s viewpoint of the child and how competent they feel as parents. Although temperament does not excuse a child’s inappropriate or challenging behavior, understanding your ch your child’s temperament (and our own temperament) will help parents to work with their children on their demands. Further, despite the fact that parents can’t determine their child’s temperamental style, parenting can be modified around your child’s temperament.

Different Temperament Styles

There are different schools of thoughts on temperament styles. Thomas & Chess (1956) found that 60% to 65% of children fall into the following 3 categories of temperament; Easy, Difficult and Slow-to-warm-up. More than one-third of all children have traits do not cluster in any of the 3 categories found by Thomas & Chess. Some people also describe temperament styles as: Timid, Bold, Melancholic and Upbeat.

1. The Easy Child
The easy child adapts easily to regular routine regarding eating and sleeping, etc. The easy child also may have a positive approach and is easily adapting to new situations or changes. In addition, the easy child seems to have a pleasant mood, smile often and shows less frustration. This child has good attention span and is less distracted. Some other people may refer to the easy temperament as Bold, Optimistic or Upbeat. These children are also more willing to try new things. Parents may need to provide guidance to their children on achieving a realistic assessment of what is reasonable and possible new things to try. These children tend to naturally have a sunny disposition and see possibilities and opportunities even in the face of adversity.

2. The Difficult Child
The difficult child falls on the other end of the scale of an Easy child. These children are challenging and feisty. They tend to show irregular eating and sleeping cycle. They tend to show a more negative approach or response to new changes. The difficult child needs more time to adapt to changes (e.g. meeting new people or facing new situations) and seems less “flexible” to changes. Their behaviors in respond to changes may include crying or throwing tantrums. The difficult child also has a less pleasant mood and more likely to be distracted. If a difficult child is forced to adapt to a new change, sometimes the child may show oppositional or aggressive behaviors.

3. The Slow-to-Warm-Up Child
The slow-to-warm-up child tends to show negative response of lesser intensity when exposed to new situations, when compare to the difficult child. This child can slowly come to accept new changes with repeated encouragement, exposure and practice. Further, these children have fairly regular biological routines as compare to the difficult temperament.

If these children are forced to become immediately engaged with a new person or to be involved in a new situation, they are more likely to become withdrawn. These withdrawal behaviors may include clinging to the parent, refusing to cooperative, being silent, or retreating to the corner of the room.

Another term to describe the slow-to-warm-up child is Melancholic. These children may be described as more of a passive temperament. They can also be very thoughtful and very sensitive to others. Such sensitivity may also give a pessimistic, depressing and anxious outlook at times. The slow-to-warm-up child can also be very self-conscious, worrisome and focus on details. These children tend to better when they learn to reframe things in a more positive light and are then encouraged to try things out from that positive thinking perspective. Parents can support their slow-to-warm-up children in positive thinking and practice early on.

These children are slow to adapt to a new situation and could be sensitive to separation. These are the children who are fearful of new things and need understanding and gentle, yet firm, coaxing and encouragement. Being timid can be a strength, especially if you are a girl meeting a stranger on the playground.