Today’s parents must learn to appreciate the shadow of temperament as Jerome Kagan puts it. Children’s hard wiring can guide your footwork out of clumsy, frustrating dances. Temperament, or basic characteristics, are noticeable to every parent from early on, and remain fairly consistent through the teen years. If you recognize this and try to match your movies in the dance with your child’s basic temperament, you’ll have a greater chance to authentically engage, and spend less time fighting. Here are some of the main temperamental constellations to watch for and how to approach each:
- Sensitive child – tone of voice, pacing of questions, much less yelling.
- First-time fearful child – practice, go slowly, let child’s reaction guide.
- Tenacious child – offer a “limited choice,” either one of which you can accept.
- Active child – allow fewer choices, talk small and quick, arrange a lot of everyday physical activity to burn off energy, and be on the look-out for food allergies.
- Difficulty with transitions child – simple, but harder than you think: cut down on the number of transitions; one less per day can make a huge difference.
- Low frustration tolerance child – anticipate escalations ahead of time, and always try to attend to biology: not enough rest, hunger, and over-stimulation. Physiology always wins.
- Clingy child – prepare your child for transitions, more one-on-one time, try to make sure there are fewer surprises for this kind of temperament.
- Scattered and disorganized child – ask kids to repeat what you said, help with gentle reminders and break tasks into smaller chunks. This “executive functioning” will get somewhat better with age, but not as quickly as you would like.
- Quiet or low mood child – mindset is critical: low-grade moodiness is not a rejection of your love, which is how it feels to many mother and fathers; much more down time is needed, as well as reassuring rituals.
Ron Taffel – Childhood Unbound p.95