Sneak peek: Understanding the role of temperament in children’s development and parenting can open up a world of insight into their behavior
I picked my 9-year-old up from baseball camp the other day. He climbed into the car, covered in sweat, and immediately asked if he could have a play date with a friend…oh yes, and go swimming!
I was floored! He had just spent 3 hours in the 90-degree heat practicing baseball. I thought for sure he would want some downtime.
For the sake of my sanity (and his), I did require that we both have some downtime before the next activity. He grudgingly complied but said something like, “quiet time is just not my thing.”
This, of course, explains a lot about his personality and why his behavior sometimes “pushes my buttons.”
Over the years, I have discovered that temperament in children can be very different from their parent’s temperament. He’s an extrovert and likes a lot of interaction with people, new activities, friends, etc. I am an introvert and would be perfectly happy in a library for hours on end talking to no one.
By understanding his temperament and the overall role of temperament in child development, I have come to understand that his constant desire for social interaction is not a way to annoy me but an actual psychological need. Just as I crave quiet, he craves interaction. Therefore, by understanding our children’s unique temperaments, we have better insight into why they act the way they do and why it sometimes pushes our buttons.
The Role of Temperament in Child Development
In the previous post about temperament, I reviewed some of the main theories and definitions that are common in child development research. It is important to remember that the child temperament types described in these theories (e.g., “difficult,” “easy,” “slow to warm up”) are not meant to be labels in which children can be pigeon-holed for life. They are simply categories that help describe different combinations of characteristics or behavior patterns. Although there seems to be some genetic basis for temperament, this does not mean a child is destined to be one way or another. Many other factors come into play. A couple of factors that I’m discussing today are culture and parent-child interactions.
An interesting chat about temperament from my Facebook Group:
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The Role of Expectations and Parenting
Parents’ personal values and expectations for their child may also influence how they react to a child’s temperament. Researchers Thomas and Chess also examined this extensively in several long-term studies of child development. They found that how parents reacted to their child’s temperament had a great deal to do with how the child’s behavior matched up with their own values and standards.
For instance, they give the example of a “slow to warm up” child who is hesitant about making new friends. If parents view this behavior in a negative light as being overly timid or unfriendly, they may force the child to make new friends very quickly, to which the child may respond by being even more anxious. This has the possibility of establishing a difficult pattern of parent-child interaction.
Other parents, with a less negative interpretation of their child’s behavior, might be more patient with the child and allow him/her to make friends on their own time. This type of response will most likely make for both a happier child and happier parents in this situation.
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What’s the Role of Culture in Temperament?
Similarly, how parents respond to their a child’s temperament can have a lot to do with their own culture-bound values, expectations, and standards. For example, many of us who were raised in American culture value independence and self-reliance to a great degree. Given this, we may respond to a child who is “slow to warm up,” apprehensive about social interaction, or who needs more guidance much differently than a parent from a culture that values interdependence more highly.
Although many concepts discussed in child development are culturally bound, this seems to be especially the case with temperament. What is defined as a “difficult” or “easy” temperament can vary dramatically by culture. Just think about it. We here in modern Western society may think of a fussy baby who cries a lot as having a “difficult” temperament, but in a less advantaged culture where famine or disease is common, such as baby would be considered “hardy” and more likely to survive these challenges. Thinking of temperament in this way gives it a whole new perspective.
Personally, I think the important part of this research is to help us understand that parents have many different ways they can respond to their child’s temperament and which one they choose has a lot to do with their interpretation of their child’s behavior and how it fits with their own values and goals.
Is your child’s temperament different from your own or similar? What challenges does this present in your relationship? Share your thoughts in the comments!