How to recognize children's different temperaments?

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Temperament is defined as individual differences in reactivity and regulation in the domains of affect, activity and attention -Rothbart & Bates

Temperament is relatively stable and it emerges already early in life. Every child's temperament is shaped for example by genetics and living environment.

According to research, children’s temperament has been linked to important outcomes such as academic performance, social development, and behavior adjustment. Therefore, it is important especially for parents, teachers, and childcare providers to understand different ways to communicate with children with different temperament types.

Understanding individual differences in children’s temperament are particularly important in early childhood as children typically enter their first structured educational setting and face environmental demands that may be quite different from those of the home environment.

What are the temperament types?

Thomas and Chess (1977) identified three temperament types:

  1. Difficult
  2. Easy
  3. Slow-to-warm up

Difficult/feisty children show irregular sleep and feeding times, slow acceptance of new foods, prolonged adjustment to new people and routines, intense reactions, and crying frequently.

Easy/flexible children develop regular sleep and feeding schedules, eat new food types easily, smile at strangers, and adapt to new situations with only little fuss.

Slow-to-warm-up / cautious children adapt slowly to new situations and people, show mildly intense negative responses, and prefer having a familiar and same routine in every area of life.

The difficult, easy, and slow-to-warm-up categories are still used today; however, many children do not clearly go in just one of these categories, so the type can depend on the situation.

Why it is important to recognize different temperament types?

For educators, it is vital to know children well and understand whether a child's behavior is due to the child's temperament type or due to something that has happened. If a child has encountered something unusual or shocking or is falling ill, his behavior may be peculiar.

For example, if a child is very quiet and wants to stay on her own - it might be perfectly normal behavior if she is a slow-to-warm-up type. But if her temperament type is feisty then she might stay quiet and restrained if she feels sick.

Children might feel more comfortable playing with peers that share a similar character. Therefore, it is good for the educator to pay attention to which children act similarly and thus would probably bond and form a friendship. Of course, it is also good that the group of children is mixed so that all children get experiences playing with everyone, but to boost equal and balanced friendships, similar temperament types usually work well together.

During circle time or in performances it is also beneficial for everyone if the educator knows who wants to be in the spotlight and who surely does not. Putting a shy, slow-to-warm-up child on the stage alone might be traumatic even, so it is not necessary for everyone to perform in front of others. Each child should participate in a way they are comfortable with.

More scientific studies and interesting reads about the topic:

Extra tip

You can also include the children in reflecting and discussing their temperaments, feelings, and moods. Here is a real-life example of discussing moods with the children using pictures on the wall. Then make a learning post with Kindiedays and share it with the families.

Children learn about their feelings and express themselves. Then the discussion can also continue at home.

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