One of the commonest things parents say about their child’s behaviours is “I don’t know where they get it from”.
This is often expressed in the context of their child’s temperament.
What is temperament?
This term might mean different things in different contexts. However, here we’re using it to describe the general tendencies of an individual child to react to events and stimuli in various ways.
This means at an everyday level, why one child will get angry or excited about something, whereas the child next to them will be apparently unconcerned and indifferent.
It is far from clear where temperament comes from, though it is assumed to have a significant genetic basis. However, it is well known that some children have temperaments that appear to be very different to that of either their biological mother or father and their early socialisation activities are also assumed to play a part in forming their temperament.
In the discussion of temperament types below, it’s important to remember that human beings can’t usually be easily categorised as “always A” or “always B”. Your child may be predominantly one temperament type but that doesn’t mean they’ll always react in a predictable fashion.
Types of temperament
Temperaments are often assessed by:
- This is the extent to which your child is comfortable with unfamiliar surroundings and/or people they don’t know very well. For example, do they go and stand in a corner quietly or are they immediately engaged with others around them;
- This is a measure of how your child behaves when something doesn’t go right for them or something very exciting happens. Children that become very angry or excited are termed “reactive” and typically they’re inclined towards being more physically active. Children who are less reactive may prefer fewer physical games and pastimes;
- Self-regulation. Children with higher levels of self-regulation normally are more in control of their emotions and can better analyse their own feelings. They might find it easier to concentrate and focus on their play or later, school work. Less self-regulated kids may find it more difficult to stop their attention wandering and are more easily distracted, however, they might also be more creative.
What this means for parenting
A combination of the above factors will, together with many other things, influence the general behavioural tendencies of your child and ultimately result in what most of us would call “the type of person they are”.
Parents will need to tailor their routines, to some extent, to accommodate this.
For example, a child with low levels of self-regulation may need more encouragement to stay involved in a given pre-school activity until it’s finished.
Children with fewer inclinations towards shared social activities may drift towards becoming ‘a loner’ unless they’re helped to recognise the value of playing with other children. By contrast, one who is highly sociable might find it trickier to keep themselves occupied when they’re not in the midst of a collective activity.
Over time, usually within perhaps the first 24 months, parents will have started to get a feeling as to the type of temperament their child has. As that develops and solidifies, adjustments to your parenting regime will need to be made.