All of us are born with a unique way of approaching, responding to, and interacting with the world — also known as temperament. Temperament, to varying degrees, remains stable throughout our lives.
That said, with sensitive support, guidance, and limits, children can overcome temperament-related challenges. A toddler who naturally goes from “zero-to-sixty” in the blink of an eye, for instance, can learn self-control. A little one who is anxious about new situations can learn to adapt with less stress. A serious child may never be a comedian, but she can develop a sense of humor.
When it comes to temperament, there are a few key ways to help a child thrive, including these:
Learn your child’s temperament.
Pay attention to how she naturally approaches, responds to, and interacts with the world. Learn the situations that are consistently challenging for her. Is it typically hard for her to fall asleep? Transition from one activity to another? Cope with highly-stimulating environments, like crowded play areas? Calm down when she’s upset or excited?
Accept your child’s temperament.
Temperament is like eye color; you get what you get. It’s true that some temperaments are easier to parent / care for than others, but it’s essential to accept your child for who she is. Trying to change her temperament is likely to backfire, and over time can squash her self-esteem. That doesn’t mean she gets a free pass on behavior, of course. It just means that in order to thrive, she must feel loved for who she is.
Personalize your approach.
Interacting with your child in a temperament-friendly way can be tricky. For one thing, you may have or care for more than one child, each with a different temperament. One may transition easily from one activity to another, for example, while the other needs extra time and support to make the switch. When your own temperament is different than your child’s, it can be hard to understand why she behaves the way she does. You may be an easy-going person with a baby who cries a lot. Or maybe you’re very active and your child prefers quiet activities.
Because each temperament has unique needs, the central question is: Do your expectations make sense for your child?
Rule out other reasons for behavior.
Sometimes behavior is not related to temperament, and requires a different approach. A baby who consistently has trouble falling asleep may have a medical issue, like infant reflux. Or an extremely picky-eating toddler may have issues with sensory integration.
The takeaway is that you can’t change your child’s temperament. But, if you accept it and provide the unique support, guidance, and limits she needs, you can help build up her strengths and teach her skills for managing temperament-related challenges.
You can learn more about supporting a child with a challenging/difficult temperament here, and a slow-to-warm-up/cautious temperament here.