Within the first few days of a child’s life, many parents will describe them as calm, easy going, demanding, or high strung. Each child is born with a temperament that influences the way they react to the world around them. That being said, it is important for parents to remember that temperament is not static. Taking the time to understand and accept your child’s temperament will help you be a better parent.
When considering a child’s temperament, we think about nine traits. You can easily find these online. From there, approximately 65% of children fall into one of three categories. The largest majority of children are considered “flexible or easy.” These children generally feel good about the world around them. They do not become upset when meeting new people or entering new situations, and can handle changes in their day. Flexible or easy children tend to have predictable daily patterns. Ten percent of children are considered “active, difficult, or feisty.” These children are more emotional and sensitive. They can be fussy, cry frequently, and have more irregular schedules. The final fifteen percent of children are categorized as “slow to warm or cautious.” These children tend to be less active, are quite shy, and may even be anxious when exposed to new experiences and people. With repetition, many of these children learn to manage these situations.
Parents should remember that not all children fit into one of these three categories. Often, labeling one’s child can actually be detrimental. On the other hand, understanding how your child naturally experiences the word around them can increase the effectiveness of your parenting. How does this work? The first step is to spend some time observing your baby or child. Try this during different activities and at different times of day. Be conscious of paying attention to both positive and negative behaviors. Doing this repeatedly will help you see a pattern in your child’s behavior and help you better understand their temperament.
How can you use these observations and positively influence these traits in your child? Read on. When we use information about children’s temperament to be more effective parents, we hope to achieve “goodness of fit.” Goodness of fit refers to the harmony, match or mismatch, between a parent and child’s temperament. A good fit is present when a parent’s values and expectations coincide with a child’s abilities and behaviors. Once you’ve spent some time thinking about your child’s temperament, it’s important to consider your own. Many parents find that it is easier to parent the child who has a similar temperament to their own. Think about how and when your own behavioral tendencies are in sync with your child and when they are not. This is not to say that if a parent and child are a good fit, there will not be challenges. Difficult times emerge in all relationships. What a parent must understand is that most children do not have the capacity to make adjustments to meet a parent’s temperament. That is the parents’ job. I’m certainly not advocating turning your life upside down to accommodate your child’s personality, rather, once you understand it, knowing when to set limits and when to allow them some freedom is far easier.
Parenting effectively is not “one size fits all,” but studies show that when parents spend time picking up on cues and recognizing their child’s temperament, they can more successfully prevent, and manage, future behavior problems. Acknowledge your children’s individuality. Accept their strengths and weaknesses. Have reasonable, developmentally appropriate, expectations that consider your child. Set limits and discipline consistently. You can raise a well-adjusted child and have a happy family.