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You and your Child : Being a Child (part 2) - Understanding your child’s temperament

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Understanding your child’s temperament

Much of what we understand about children’s temperament derives from a study of 233 children age 0–8 that began in the US in the 1950s. Known as the New York Longitudinal Study of Child Temperament, it is still going strong today. Although times have changed, young children haven’t, and so the findings are highly relevant. The study has found that a child’s temperament is generally made up of nine broad traits. There are no “good” or “bad” traits, and no rights or wrongs about the mix. Understanding and recognizing which apply to your family will help you to get to know, and bond with, your toddler.

As you come to know and recognize your child’s character you will learn to react appropriately. If your child’s reaction is different to what you would have expected, it is probably still healthy and normal. Differences may become more pronounced as she grows older depending on how you respond and depending on factors in her personal environment. For example, moving might prove to be quite a challenge; or she may initially hold back from making friends at school.

Look at me!

Your child’s temperament is unique to him and needs to be recognized, respected, and nurtured as a central part of his developing personality.

How physically active is your child?

A child who is constantly active may have moved and kicked a lot in the womb; in contrast with a very laid-back and calm child who may not have moved as much.

How predictable is your child?

Some children are very predictable and regular in their habits. Their biological functions (eating, sleeping, and bowel movements) are very routine. These children will react well to a set regimen. Others may have needed a more flexible and varied approach from birth. In time, all children need boundaries and to learn what behavior is acceptable, but there is no harm in being more sensitive to your child’s temperament when she is small, and building up to a routine gradually.

How shy is your child?

A child’s immediate response to a new person or a new environment tells a story. Does your child go in boldly without seeming to hesitate or think when she meets someone new or goes somewhere different? Or is she cautious and watchful? Does your child withdraw, cling, and try to avoid newness? Many children go through a clingy period where they are anxious about being separated from their parent, in particular; but a shy child will show this trait more consistently.

Does your child take time to adjust to change?

If you alter your child’s routine or introduce a new caregiver, how long will it take her to adapt to the change? Some children are very flexible and will calm quickly, others find change difficult and take longer to adapt.

How intensely does your child react?

Some children respond to situations with more energy than others, whether positively or negatively. The scale of response may vary from mild protest to full-fledged tantrum, or from “quiet and tense” to “calm and quiet”.

How would you describe your child?

Is she generally contented and smiley? Or is she more fractious, tending toward crying and fussiness? A young child is easily influenced by factors in her environment.

Is it easy to distract your child?

Some toddlers are more easily distracted than others and find it difficult to focus on a task. Others appear intently focused and are not easily distracted, for example, when eating or playing.

Can your child cope with frustration?

Some children are more frustration-tolerant than others. One may stick with a task for a length of time in spite of encountering obstacles to progress, whereas another child may give up as soon as she is frustrated or distracted. For example, a very persistent child may get upset if you interrupt self-feeding attempts, whereas a less persistent one may get frustrated if you do not.

How sensitive is your child?

The sensitivity referred to here is not to do with emotions, but rather with the sensory system: how easily your child is affected by changes in temperature, noise, light, or texture. For example, some babies when wet will cry immediately and need changing; others seem not to notice. A very sensitive child may not like to be rocked, whereas a less sensitive child may find the rocking movement very soothing when trying to sleep.

Your expressive child

A small child is emotionally transparent and his or her individuality will be evident from the earliest months of life.

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