Temperament refers to the inborn differences in each person in terms of their emotions, activity level, and self-regulation. It’s the collection of our characteristics that makes us unique; how emotionally intense we are, how sensitive to lights and sounds, and how active and adaptable to new people and situations. Are we persistent or do we give up right away? Do we love being around people and working in groups, or do we prefer to work and play quietly on our own? These traits tend to be stable over time, but they can be influenced by the environment. For example, if an infant is angry and has a parent who does things to instigate this anger it will likely continue. If the infant who displays anger has a parent who is loving and kind, the angry response may start to dissipate with time (Berger, 2018; Berk, 2013).
Temperament is biologically based. Children don’t choose their temperament and it’s not the result of something their parents or teachers did or didn’t do. Temperament can explain why two children can react quite differently in the same situation (Berger, 2018; Zero to Three, 2020).
Understanding the meaning of the child’s behavior and why he acts the way he does can help the caregiver respond sensitively (Zero to Three, 2020). If a child is active take her outside to run around before going to the doctor’s office, where she’ll have to sit. I have one child who is very social. Last year she chose to be in the speech and debate club, an activity which fit her temperament. When my other child was young she got overwhelmed by large, loud crowds, so I made the conscious decision to go to places like a trampoline park right when they opened, so there would be fewer people and less noise. You can make accommodations in the environment that will make it easier on the children and on you, with fewer temper tantrums and challenging behaviors. Of course, I exposed that child to some stimulation so that she got used to it, but I could control when and where, and do it slowly so that it wasn’t traumatic.
Temperament traits are just traits; they aren’t good or bad. Being stubborn and determined can be good if you’re in graduate school and determined to finish, but it can be bad if you have anorexia and you are stubborn and determined to not get help.
Berger, K. S. (2018). The developing person: Through Childhood and adolescence (11th
ed.). New York, NY: Worth.
Berk, L. E. (2013). Child development (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Zero to Three (2020). Tips on temperament. Retrieved from https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/243-tips-on-temperament