Parenting the Personality your Child was Born With

  • In social situations, how would you describe the way you interact?
  • Have you always been this way or has that changed through time?
  • In social situations, how does your child interact, if left unassisted?

Hold these questions in mind as you go through this handout to discover what may be your temperament and your child’s temperament style.

THE SCIENCE BEHIND IT

  • Personality is influenced by temperament.  Temperament is a child’s way of typically reacting emotionally and behaviorally to external events. 
  •  Jerome Kagan, psychological researcher best known for studying temperament, discovered by enrolling 500 children in a study that spanned their life from infancy to adolescence.  He found that he could place these kids into two buckets, the low-reactives that took most external events in stride and attentiveness, and the high-reactives that tend to have strong reactions to their external world whether it is high emotion or avoidance.  The study also showed that most of the children remained with this temperament until adolescence.
  • Parenting, experiences, and reactions to the child by others will influence whether the temperament style becomes adaptable and part of personality or an issue for the child (i.e. anxiety, impulsivity, difficult behavior).
  • Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess studied another set of 400 children and found 9 different ways to look at temperament.  They knew these were difficult for parents and professionals to hold, so they combined the traits  to three types of temperament:  Easy - Slow to Warm - Difficult.
  • The temperament researchers discovered that one of many factors that help children thrive is for parent and child to have “good fit,”  Meaning that parents adjust their expectations, rules and responses based on how children naturally respond to emotion and external influence-their temperament style. 
  • When there is a “bad fit” meaning your temperament and their's collide, it is the parent's responsibility to put their own traits aside and sooth the child based on what best fits for the child’s temperament.
  • The “good fit” form of parenting has withstood the test of time up to this point.  Neurologists and geneticists are now attempting to research the biology behind temperament.
  • Temperament is not a destiny; it can be managed and maneuvered.

 

WHAT ARE THESE TEMPERAMENT STYLES AND HOW DO YOU PARENT THEM?

High Reactive Temperament 

The Active type sometimes called "difficult"

Physical Traits:

  • Eating: Picky eater, limited range of food
  • Sleeping: Irregular sleeper, resists bedtime
  • Energy Level: Constantly moving

Social Traits:

  • New Situations: Negative, rejects new situations, easily overstimulated
  • Change: Fights change, stubborn, feisty
  • Friends: Shy, timid, may not like groups

Cognitive Traits:

  • Attention Span: Short, quick to give up if frustrated, easily-distracted
  • Learning Style: Gives up easily, inattentive, can’t sit still, easily-distracted

Parenting Tips to keep in mind for this temperament

  1. Prevention is key when it comes to a difficult temperament; make sure they are fed and have slept well
  2. Maintain a strict routine
  3. Always address their goal and emotional state first before setting the boundary or consequence
  4. Screaming and high reactivity does not work with this temperament and will escalate their negative behavior and feeling states
 

The observant type often called "slow to warm/shy"

Physical Traits:

  • Eating: Can be fussy
  • Sleeping: Uneven, if stressed sleep is affected
  • Energy Level: Variable

Social Situations:

  • New Situations: Initial withdrawal, shy, timid, needs time to adjust
  • Change: Needs time to adjust but adapts
  • Friends: Needs time to feel comfortable

Cognitive Traits:

  • Attention Span: Inconsistent but can concentrate if interested
  • Learning Style: Can be slow to focus, but then persistent

Parenting Tips to keep in mind for this temperament

  1. Be conscious of the time it takes your child to “feel comfortable” joining in (usually 5-10 minutes)
  2. Do not push to join in or move more quickly, narrate how they are “observers” and stay away from labeling them as shy
  3. Give them space and time whenever possible
  4. Maintain a steady and predictable routine as much as possible
 

Low Reactive

Physical Traits:

  • Eating: Flexible, open appetite
  • Sleeping: Regular “can set a clock by her”
  • Energy Level: Low/Average

Social Traits:

  • New Situations: Positive, outgoing, easy going
  • Change: Flexible, adapts easily to change
  • Friends: Outgoing, many friends

Cognitive Traits:

  • Attention Span: Calm, cheerful, positive, cooperative
  • Learning Style: Focused, persistent, sits quietly

Parenting Tips to keep in mind for this temperament

  • Maintain a routine, as often as possible
  • Prevent discomfort by making sure they are fed and have slept
  • Do not rush them
  • Narration of their day, feelings and situations works well for this temperament when dealing with difficult behavior.