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
I began to register that for the past decade, teachers of our youngest children had been telling me about this diminishing world of inner emotion. Decades ago, psychologist Selma Faiberg in her seminal work The Magic Years, wrote about the vital importance of an almost otherworldly childhood era – between toddlerhood and early elementary school – filled with rich fantasy and imagination, unrestrained by time pressures or the constraints of everyday reality. I realized that magic was being assaulted in children of all ages, seeking to keep up with a world based on instant interaction. (I am convinced that one of the little discussed reasons for the Harry Potter phenomenon is that J.K. Rowling tapped into this yearning in children, who had been made to leave behind their magic much too early in life). With little room for cumbersome emotion or playful fantasy or idiosyncratic passion they had better learn to move fast and to “Live Free or Die Tryin,” as the older kids might put it.
Why is the inner world of magic, play, and emotion so important? An internal world hits the “pause” button. It stops action and slows down time just long enough to nurture reflection and protect genuine passion. Connecting to one’s inner self helps a child learn to handle the ups and down of everyday life (a lot of conflict can happen during recess) through creative play, rather than instant acting-out. It helps a child learn empathy through the use of role-play and imaginative games (remember dolls and puppets?), rather than the lightning-sharp repartee of social cruelty. It helps a child regulate anxiety, anger, and frustration through a focus on passionate pursuits. Mastery of some interest, whether it’s comic books, guitar, or dance, requires kids to put off immediate gratification, and helps them deal with envy and a fear of failing. Without these skills, children tend toward explosions of raw, unprocessed emotion. An inner life also provides ballast, a strong sense of self that helps navigate the unfettered rush of the here and now.
Ron Taffel – Childhood Unbound p.49