He charges up to two boys who are crawling on the floor, grabs one of the trucks, and yells, "Mine! Why do these three children react so differently to the same situation? Each of these three boys was born with his own temperament. How your child reacts to everyday routines, transitions, unfamiliar situations, and new people is influenced by his temperament. Although there are many ways that temperament can be defined, we focus here on five traits that represent the range of inborn characteristics: intensity of reaction, activity level, tolerance for frustration, response to change, and reaction to new people.
Each of these is present in every child—what differs is how they're expressed. For example, when it comes to reaction to new people, one child might cheerfully greet a cousin he's never met, while another may not even make eye contact. How can you tell what your child's temperament is?
Understanding Your Child’s Temperament: The Building Blocks of Personality
Between 6 and 9 months, most parents begin to see patterns in their child's behaviors that give them clues, but temperament becomes more apparent in the toddler years, as your child becomes more verbal and social. As you read about these characteristics, picture each one as a continuum.
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Although we describe each end of the range, many children fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Kids like Carlos tell the world loud and clear how they feel. They're what we would call big reactors. Intense kids like these might squeal at the top of their lungs when they're happy, and shout, throw things, or hit when they're mad. Kids on the low range of intensity tend to be quiet and rarely fuss, sleep more than average, and show their emotions with only slight changes in facial expression or tone of voice. Characteristics: From "I just want to chill" to "I want everyone to know how I feel" kids.
If your child is action oriented, you'll probably know by the time she's walking. She'll always want to be on the go, exploring the world around her by crawling, running, and climbing.
Understanding Your Child's Personality
These movers and shakers love spaces that offer lots of opportunity for movement. At the other end of the spectrum are kids who are content to sit and play quietly, and may prefer exploring with their hands instead of their legs.
They tend to take in the world by looking or listening. Their interest in the things around them can be every bit as strong as an active baby's, but they don't feel the same need to be up and about. Characteristics: From "I'm happy to sit and play" to "I need to be on the move". You may have clues about how well your child copes with frustration in the first year, but this will become more evident in toddlerhood.
Children who are persistent usually keep trying when faced with a challenge and have the patience to wait for their needs to be met.
A baby with a high tolerance for frustration will keep trying until she gets the cracker into her mouth. While one child may try over and over, a less persistent baby may give up and cry or attempt another activity instead. Characteristics: From "I-give-up" kids to "Let's try again" kids. While young children are generally well known for being inflexible about their routines, some kids seem to be even more dependent on them.
These children tend to react to the smallest of shifts—a new food on their plate or a slight change in the bedtime routine. They have more tantrums, which can be triggered by anything from the suggestion of a new babysitter to a change of furniture in their house to the idea that they have to stop doing something they are immersed in; and they need lots of time and support to get comfortable in new surroundings, generating lots of "No, No, No! Other children take change in stride. They tend to find new jackets, new friends, and new foods interesting; and they respond comfortably anywhere you take them because they nap in noisy restaurants, nurse wherever you happen to be, and enjoy looking around, drawing on the paper you tucked in your bag, or joining in the conversation.
Characteristics: From "I like the way things are" to "Show me what's new".
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A trait that is often apparent to parents early on is how your child reacts to new people. Does he engage newcomers by smiling or cooing if he's nonverbal , or is he shy and hesitant around people he doesn't know? Kids who are slow to warm up tend to need time and support from trusted caregivers before they feel comfortable enough to interact.
Characteristics: From "Let's take it slow" to "Glad to meet you". The combination of all these individual traits is what makes your child who he is. Temperament is not something that he chooses, nor is it something that you created. There is no right or wrong, no better or worse temperament although some are, no doubt, more challenging to handle. It's very important for children to be accepted for who they are. But let's face it: Any parent with an intense, reactive child, or a child who is very shy and slow to warm up, will tell you that raising these children can be emotionally and physically exhausting.
Does she enjoy meeting new people and experiencing new things or does she need a little time to warm up in social situations? Perhaps she falls somewhere in the middle. Does your child seem to feel things deeply, ranging from intense happiness to fierce anger, or is he generally placid?
Build understanding. Your child dawdles through the day, lingering over every activity, while you enjoy checking things off your to-do list. You and your partner love meeting new people, but your child would prefer to stay home. This mismatch can lead to conflict. Understanding your own temperament and that of your child allows you to step back, gain perspective, and remain patient.
Instead of becoming frustrated, you can look for solutions and compromises.
When Does Child Personality First Appear?
For example, you can help an introverted child by offering plenty of advance warning before a new situation, giving details about what to expect and how to respond, and participating in small group activities instead of bigger gatherings when possible. Some parents in this situation find that a compromise works well, e. Another common parenting challenge is that of separating parental needs and temperamental style from that of our children. Getting clear on your own parenting style and needs can help you maintain healthy boundaries and see your children as individuals.
Advocate for your child. Our culture tends to reward quiet, submissive behavior. This puts you in a better place to respond to negative comments in ways that are helpful to your child, e. She knows exactly what she wants. Behaviors can be impacted by environment, illness, cultural expectations, and developmental disabilities.
Children with introverted personality traits can learn to become more social.
Use your knowledge of temperament as a tool, but avoid placing labels on your child e. More on Parenting:. Written by: Bright Horizons Education Team. Parenting tips delivered to your email inbox. Get our weekly newsletter for all things early child development—from the benefits of pretend play to at-home STEM activities, and teaching kindness—along with encouragement for every stage of your parenting journey. Find tips on choosing the right child care provider for children with special needs or developmental delays, and get advice for working with teachers.
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