No child is behaves in one way all the time, but psychologists agree that each has their own usual type. This is usually reflected in the way parents or close family members describe the child since their infancy; for example, ‘Sandra is very easygoing’ or ‘Rodney likes routines’. Such differences are clues to different temperaments that human beings are born with. The following article provides information on What Is Temperament, Understanding Temperament, Teaching Strategies and more.
What Is Temperament?
At its simplest, temperament is the way children respond to the world. A child’s temperament can be understood in terms of how much or how little they show of the following three qualities:
- Reactivity: this is how strongly children react to things like exciting events or not getting their own way. Reactive children tend to feel things strongly.
- Self-regulation: this is how much children can control their behaviour, including the way they show their feelings. It’s also about how much children can control their attention and how persistent they are.
- Sociability: this is how comfortable children are when they meet new people or have new experiences.
Why Is Important To Understand Temperament?
Differences in temperament are crucial since they influence the way children handle emotions, regulate behaviour and feel around new people. Only when adult caregivers understand the situations that a child might find hard because of their temperament, can they help the child learn how to handle these situations?
Above all, temperament is an innate trait – in other words, human beings are born with their temperament. Thus if one is born less reactive, simply exposing the baby to loud stimuli like bright colours and exaggerated expressions will not turn the baby into a more reactive personality. However, some factors can family expectations, environment or experiences can seem to bring some changes in temperament as a child becomes more mature. For example, a child who used to be very distracted at school might become an adult who can concentrate well in business meetings. This might be because they’ve developed more motivation as they’ve matured, or because they’ve learned strategies to manage their distraction. Fundamentally though, temperaments don’t alter which is why it is important that families and educators learn to understand a child’s temperament and devise interventions that will bring out the best in that child.
- For less reactive children
Such children are usually easy to get along with but might be less assertive. You can use language to help them understand their own emotions, feelings, and reactions. Encourage them to seek help when needed and communicate their own feelings and needs to others, for example, tell the less reactive child that, “When Jack takes your block, you can tell him, ‘I am using that.’”
Also, ensure that the feelings and preferences of these children are recognized and validated. For example, if the class is discussing which story to read, you can say, ‘Jamie, you haven’t said much. Are you
happy with that choice of the story?’
A less reactive child might also be less inclined to physical activity. They may spend hours doing crafts, drawing and other activities that let them use their fine motor skills but can shy away from vigorous physical games. To encourage them to move more, suggest physical activities that would facilitate their interests like taking a trip to the park to collect leaves for a collage or walking to the library, instead of driving.
- For more reactive children
Such children usually are a lot of fun when something good happens but can be loud and dramatic when things don’t go their way. Stay calm when faced with the child’s intense emotions. Teach them relaxing strategies like “belly breathing” to help them respond more calmly. Reassure them by acknowledging their feelings like anger and frustration; also teach them how to use words to express such emotions. “You are so angry. You really wanted that toy.” Once they calm down, point out the state to them so that they learn to recognize their emotions on their own which is the first step to managing them effectively.
Reactive children are often also very physically active and do well with opportunities to expend high energy levels. Give them lots of time outdoors where they can engage in vigorous physical play and use playground equipment to use their gross motor skills. At the same time, they may need more support during transitions. Get down on the child’s level and make sure that the child hears and understands what will happen next in order to ensure smooth experiences throughout the day. After playtime, help them unwind in a peaceful environment, accompanied by soothing music or soft reading.
- For less self-regulated children
Such children can be very creative and are often willing to try out new experiences. However, they may also lose interest at the same speed and want to move on to the next task. To support these children, you may need to make learning more fun by incorporating art, music, games, role-play and imagination. Using appropriate choices or a reward system can be another way of getting less self-regulated children to focus better.
Above all, develop realistic expectations from children with less self-regulation and assess their skills to determine where they need support, like instruction, self-awareness, practice, and feedback. Put in place clear rules and routines so that children know what to expect and what is expected of them. For more reactive children, practice identifying and labelling feelings with these children too so that they get learn when to use calming strategies or refill their resource pool, like sleep and a balanced diet.
- For more self-regulated children
These children display appear to be less emotionally swayed by changing circumstances which makes them good at coping with setbacks. Since higher self-regulation is related to better attention, such children are able to focus for longer periods on tasks and can go through work without much supervision. On the flip side, they might set too high expectations of themselves; so ensure that they know how to handle failure and enjoy experiences for their own sake rather than just to “achieve”.
- For less sociable children
Children who are less sociable can be found spending long time periods on their own. They might not need much help finding something to do or are unlikely to nag adults to supply them with entertainment. But such children might need help with social skills to make friends and initiate play. Arrange for them to play with one or two friends rather than in groups.
Since such children also take time to warm up to new people, ensure that you spend time and effort to build a close trusting relationships. Observe their cues carefully so that you can help them explore new situations and experiences. You can, for example, say something like, “I’m here. I’ll be right in this chair watching you try on the dress-up clothes”, so that the child feels reassured and confident. Setting up a predictable environment and sticking to a clear routine can also help cautious children feel more secure. Also bear in mind that drop-off and pick-up might also require extra time and support for them to cope with changes.
- For more sociable children
You can identify sociable children by their interest in peers and keenness to join group activities. They like being around people and are usually quick to learn social skills like turn-taking, sharing, negotiation and communication. At the same time, it is important for children to learn to occupy themselves as well; so encourage these children to find things to do on their own and teach them how to practice some downtime like colouring quietly or listening to music on their own.
The other common trait of sociability is adaptability. Such children usually cope well with changes to routines and are open to new experiences. Offer lots of opportunities for cooperative activities and variety in experiences to your sociable learners.
- Be aware of your own temperament
This is important so that you don’t – even unconsciously – bring your own temperamental biases to bear upon expectations from children. For example, even though you enjoy movement, loud music playing, and constant bustle, be aware that not all children may wish for high sensory stimulation; so if a child squirms, turns away or seems uncomfortable in a high sensory environment, tone down the stimuli.
Indeed, being aware of your own temperament might actually give you an insight into what it would feel like to spend all day in a setting that was calm, hushed, and quiet. This reflective process can help you become more attuned to the experience of each child within your care. You can then determine what adjustments might be needed to create a better fit for each child.
- Involve parents
For a complete understanding of children’s temperament, it is essential that families be involved. Share what you have learned about temperament with the families in your setting and in turn ask them about their child’s level of activity, sensitivity, sociability, persistence, distractibility, adaptability, mood and regularity so that you can learn about the child’s temperament.
Also support families in bringing up a child with a different temperament than their own – for example, it can be tough for orderly, organized parents to find that their child has a more flexible approach to routines and timings. Refrain from judging a child’s temperamental traits as “good” or “bad” behaviour, and work with key stakeholders to see each child’s approach to the world through a positive lens
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