Know Your Child's Temperament

Temperament is a child's innate manner of thinking, behaving, and reacting. The concept of behavioral traits helps parents understand and accept the characteristics of their children.

Recognizing these inherent behavioral traits in a child is as important as positive reinforcement and loving the child. It smoothens child parenting and personality development of children.

Influences of child's innate temperament

Influences of Innate Temperament

Parents who understand their children's genetically determined nature can help them through emotional turmoil of childhood development.

They can mold their children's social behavior and help them build positive self-concept and high self-esteem.

Children see understanding parents as role models and not as intruders who just dictate terms. They see themselves on the same platform as their parents and visualize parental interaction as the reflection of their own thoughts. Consequently, children learn from the examples set by the parents.

Genetic component of temperament

For centuries, nurture theory of social behavior had gained importance, while its inherent nature was shelved.

Nevertheless, it is a common observation that some children grow in to be socially well adjusted adults irrespective of the type of nurturing they receive, while the others, in spite of the best of nurturing, continue to remain maladjusted.

Estimates of inheritance suggest that genetic differences account for approximately 20-60 percent of the variability of temperament within the population.

Effects of social and environmental influences

  • Behavioral stability is determined by genetic factors, whereas
    personality development result largely from environmental influences.

  • Expression of child's primary emotions are modified by the social expectations, for example, boys do not cry but girls do, though both experience the same pain.

  • This emphasises the fact that cognitive abilities attained during the
    childhood development influence the social development of a child.

  • Children who are not malleable to the accepted norms of the society suffer stress of maladjustment and may eventually develop behaviour disorders.

  • Behavioural and emotional problems often develop when there is a clash between the natures of the children and the parents.

  • Two of the 4 major theories focus on biological basis of behaviour, while the other two emphasize on the malleability of the human nature.

  • The outcome of interaction between nature and nurture is seen as the individual differences in expression of primary emotions like anger, sadness, fear and joy.

  • Development of cognitive abilities during childhood also demonstrate similar differences.

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Behavioral traits

1. Activity level

  • Motor component of behavior.

  • Amount of active vs. sedentary periods.

  • Child's idle speed or general activity level

2. Biological rhythms

Predictability of biological functions, such as appetite, sleep and toileting.

3. Approach or withdrawal

Child's characteristic response to new situations or people.

4. Intensity of reaction

Level of response energy: Child may react strongly, get upset dramatically or may just become quiet.

5. Sensory threshold

Required intensity to evoke a detectable response by sensory stimulation, such as sound, taste, touch and temperature changes.

6. Adaptability

  • How easily the child adapts to changes.

  • Ease at which behavior can be changed from negative to positive.

7. Distractability

Effectiveness of external stimuli in disrupting attention.

8. Persistence

Length of time child continues an activity in the face of obstacles.

9. Mood

  • Tendency to react to world in a primarily positive or negative way.

  • Amount of pleasant vs. unpleasant behavior.

Temperamental traits associated with behavior disorders

  • High Intensity

  • Withdrawal from novelty

  • Slow adaptability

  • Low regularity

  • Negative mood

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Categories of children's temperament

Children with low energy and high adjustability are very easy to manage.

  • Regular, predictable biological rhythms.

  • Positive approach to new stimuli.

  • Adapt easily to changes.

  • Mild to moderate mood expressions: Predominately positive.

  • Represent about 40 percent of children

Low energy with low adaptability: Children who are slow to warm up.

  • Biological functions may or may not be regular.

  • Initial withdrawal to new stimuli.

  • Adapt slowly.

  • Mood expressions are mild and often negative.

  • Shy and develop only few friends.

  • Dependent and present separation phobia.

  • Represent about 15 percent of children.

High energy and high adaptability

  • Prone to accidents.

  • Assertive.

  • Wake up early.

  • Parents get burnt out in trying to keep up with their energy.

High energy and slow adjusting: Known as the Difficult Child

  • Have difficulty in going to sleep.

  • Wake up in middle of the night.

  • Bolting.

  • Refuse adult's request.

  • Have strong likes and dislikes of food, clothing and activities.

  • React strongly to intrusions and restrictions.

  • Have temper tantrums.

  • Resist toilet training.

  • Withdrawal to new stimuli.

  • Poor adaptability.

  • Negative emotional expressions and loud intensity.

  • Aggressive: Hit, bite or fight other children.

  • Difficult to manage.

  • Represent about 10 percent of children.

  • Have poor capacity to adapt to social norms. 
    Consequently, they are not well accepted by the society. 

  • Even their parent-child relationship is often marred.

Difficult child often causes tremendous maternal stress that may jeopardize the mother's parenting capacity due to the resultant maternal depression.

Approximately 35 percent of children don’t clearly fit into any of the major temperament categories, but show a mixture of traits.

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