Understanding the temperaments of children

Understanding the temperaments of children

I am sure you are well-aware by now that children differ remarkably in many aspects, such as their personalities, and right from the day they are born! In this article, we will be introducing the traits at play that influence a child’s behaviour. This information can help you understand and manage your expectations, or your child’s behaviour to pave for smoother days ahead.

So, what is temperament? Temperament is the way your child responds emotionally to the world around them, such as objects, events and people. The interaction between their temperament traits and the world is then instrumental in shaping and developing their personalities. Hence, while temperament is a combination of inborn (nature) traits, personality is acquired and developed (nurture) over the years - influenced by temperament and other factors such as your parenting style, education and socialisation. 

According to child psychiatrists Doctors Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas’ work on the study of basic temperaments of infants, it is not nature nor nurture alone that determines your children’s happiness and success, but the way these two factors fit together. By understanding your children’s distinct and unique temperamental characteristics, you are then able to tailor your parenting strategies to help them more effectively adapt to the world. Here are 3 tips we have for you in coping with your children’s personality.

1. Observe closely and figure out your child’s temperament style

Imagine this: You have a new colleague joining the team, and all you know is that this lady across the room has long hair, big round eyes and a pair of nice pouty lips - but do you know who she is on the inside? How friendly is she? Does she break down all the time from stress at work? 

Similarly, when your child first joins the family, you will not know what he/she is like beyond those innocent eyes and chubby cheeks. Instead of imposing any unrealistic expectations on how he/she should behave, spend lots of time with your child, observe and understand him/her! 

Here are 9 temperamental characteristics identified by Doctors Chess and Thomas you can use to determine your children’s temperament:

  1. Activity level: Your children’s level of motor activity and the amount of time they spend being active.   
  2. Distractibility: Your children’s degree of concentration and attention span with the presence of interfering stimuli. 
  3. Intensity of response: The energy level with which your children respond to the world. 
  4. Rhythmicity/Regularity: The regularity and predictability of your children’s pattern of eating, sleeping and carrying out other biological and bodily functions.
  5. Sensory threshold: Your children’s sensitivity to physical stimuli, such as sounds, tastes, touch and temperature changes. 
  6. Mood: Your children’s tendency to react primarily positively or negatively. 
  7. Approach/Withdrawal: Your children’s response to new situations or strangers. 
  8. Adaptability: Your children’s adaptability to changes and transitions.
  9. Persistence: The length of time your children continue in activities and situations with obstacles.

2. Accept your child for who he/she is

Realising that certain traits are biological may go a long way in easing your stress and worries in parenting. Taking the example of EJ, our lead founder’s daughter: She has a heightened sense of regularity and follows a strict biological schedule naturally. It is observed that she needs to take a nap every 1.5 to 2 hours, or consume exactly 6 to 7 times of 90ml of milk daily. If this regularity is broken and she does not get what she wants at the specified time, she will be fussing around! Another trait of EJ’s is that she dislikes loud noises and unfamiliarity, hence she tends to cry and break down in a noisy or strange environment. So how did our founder make use of these observations and tailor her parenting strategies? This leads to our Tip #3!  

For example, instead of trying to change a noisy, shy, or distractible child, understand that the ‘shrieking of excitement’ and the ‘irregular sleeping habits’ are not deliberate nor are these behaviours in their control. Take a step back and adopt a more objective and emotionally neutral approach - only then would you be able to develop a more effective parenting style. 

3. Tailor your parenting strategies

Be a manager of your children’s temperament and help them adapt to this world in accordance with their innate traits. For example, if you realise that your child takes a longer time than others to warm up to new objects and people, do not force him/her to embrace these new experiences. Instead, give him/her more quiet assurance and patience to slowly step out of his/her comfort zone - make him/her realise that you are in full support of his/her feelings. 

Going back to the example of EJ: Our founder taps on EJ’s innate sense of regularity and arranges her schedule around it to create a routine and structure that works for the both of them! Whenever EJ starts to fuss, our founder will instinctively check for a few things - has she drunk enough milk for the day? Is it time for her nap? Is there a stranger around? In fact, there was an instance where our founder passed EJ to a new babysitter and EJ ended up crying for 2 hours straight. Unfortunately, our founder could not do anything as she was working. Learning from that lesson, she now always makes sure to orientate EJ with the new babysitter for at least 15 minutes before handing EJ over. 

Remember, your reaction to your child’s behaviour matters, especially in developing his/her self-esteem. Effective parenting strategies tailored to your child’s traits will go a long way in determining his/her happiness and success in his/her future school days and even the society. 

References 

Parenting Today Staff (2022). Temperament and Your Child's Personality. Retrieved 1 April 2022 from https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/uncategorized/temperament_and_your_child/#gs.te0ira

Ovia Health (n.d.). Baby's personality: Chess and Thomas' baby temperaments. Retrieved 1 April 2022 from https://www.ovuline.com/guide/14076/baby-temperaments#:~:text=Based%20on%20their%20research%2C%20Doctors,and%20other%20bodily%20functions%20are

Wong, T. (2017). The Difference Between Temperament, Personality and Behaviour. Retrieved 1 April 2022 from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/difference-between-temperament-personality-behaviour-theophilus-wong 

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