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What are Children’s Temperaments and Why Does This Matter?

Temperament is a child’s individual way of reacting to the world. How they engage with others, how they handle new situations, how they respond when they are feeling certain emotions – this all comes down to their temperament. 

There’s been a lot of thought put into children’s temperaments, including babies and infants. In the 1960s, some psychologists in New York started the largest study of temperament ever conducted. It ran for three decades and assessed 131 babies from the age of three months until adulthood.

At the end of the study, the researchers proposed nine characteristics of temperament and outlined three different children’s temperament types. 

hot, sweaty, heat exhausted girl
Source: Bigstock

NOTE: The children’s temperaments discussed below are different to the four temperaments which date back to Hippocrates. These four temperaments are sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. 

While we don’t encourage any parent to put a ‘label’ on their children, knowing your children’s temperaments can be a helpful way to understand how and why they react the way they do. You can’t change their temperament but you are able to change your own expectations and reactions based on their specific temperament. 

Another important thing to note here is that siblings won’t always have the same temperament. One child may fall into the “easy” temperament while another one may be considered “difficult”. 

Let’s take a closer look at each temperament type, shall we? 

The three temperament types in children 

EASY 

Children who fall into the ‘easy’ temperament are low-key, laid-back, and generally pretty chilled-out children. Around 40 percent of children are considered to have an ‘easy’ temperament. 

embarrassing parenting moments
No dramas for easy kids. Source: Bigstock

Qualities include: 

  • Generally positive
  • Easy to calm down and rarely upset
  • Adapts well to changes
  • Regular eating/sleeping patterns 
  • Not fussed with meeting new people 
  • Not easily frustrated or angry 
  • Low to moderate activity level 

SHY OR SLOW TO WARM

Slow-to-warm infants, toddlers, and preschoolers may be different in public than they are in the comfort of home. They may come off as shy or cautious. About 15 percent of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers fall into this category. 

Child's temperament explained
Slow to Warm babies are often considered ‘clingy’ Source: Bigstock

Qualities include: 

  • Shyness and withdrawal from unfamiliar people and situations
  • Hesitance to meet new people
  • Cautious and anxious in new situations 
  • Separation anxiety 
  • Low to moderate activity level 
  • Low intensity of mood expression

DIFFICULT

We hate this term but, hey, we didn’t make the temperaments up. “Difficult” or, as I prefer, spirited children may be considered fussy with high energy and high intensity. They feel strongly, they act strongly and they play strongly. Around 10 percent of children have a difficult temperament. 

to the mums of wild little girls
High energy, high intensity! Source: Bigstock

Qualities include: 

  • High energy, high intensity
  • Often stubborn, bossy, and difficult to please
  • Very expressive – temper tantrum queen or king!
  • Has trouble handling new situations and people
  • May have difficulties playing well with other children

NOTE:  About 35 percent of children have a variety of temperament traits and are hard to place in a single category.


The nine temperament traits

How do you determine what temperament your child fits into? This comes down to temperament traits. The big experts in New York identified NINE different traits. 

Here they are: 

 

Avatar of Jenna Galley

Born and raised in Canada, Jenna now lives in Far North Queensland with her tribe. When the mum-of-three is not writing, you can find her floating in the pool, watching princess movies, frolicking on the beach, bouncing her baby to sleep or nagging her older kids to put on their pants.

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