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Understanding Child Temperament: Characteristics, Varieties, and Strategies for Effective Management

Understanding Child Temperament

No two children are the same, even if they are your own, as there is always an obvious or subtle difference. Each child’s unique traits are a result of child temperament and form the foundation of their personality. While a child’s disposition can be classified into types, it’s not necessary that every child will fall into one of these categories. Each temperament  type has different characteristics and requires different parental adaptation and management methods.

Child temperament is the way a child adapts and reacts to their environment and new experiences. Their behaviour patterns are a window to their temperamental characteristics of whether they are sociable, reactive and self-regulated. Parental behaviour, cultural and family values, attitudes and social environment play a role in developing child temperament  and minor changes in child temperament can be made in the formative years, but once formed, their basic temperament does not change.

Types Of Temperament

Flexible or Easy Temperament

This is the most commonly seen child temperament where they are relatively stable and even-tempered in their eating, sleep and emotional expression. They like to function around a routine but can also be flexible in adapting to a change without losing their calm. They are usually cooperative and organised when given a task and can function well with a group or noisy settings.

Difficult or Challenging Temperament

Children with difficult or challenging temperaments are often impulsive and not flexible. They don’t function well in a structured routine and prefer spontaneity. Social settings usually make them irritable, fussy and withdrawn. New experiences make them anxious and they are easily distracted by noises and flashing lights.

Shy or Slow to Warm Up Temperament

Such children are shy because they are highly sensitive. They are averse to people and crowds and may display a negative reaction when forced to interact with others. They are not very good at expressing emotions and prefer low intensity activities. They don’t particularly like new experiences but may gradually warm up with repeated exposure.

Do keep in mind that it’s not necessary that a child will fit perfectly into any one of these types as many children have mixed temperaments and it’s not indicative of any abnormality.

Characteristics of Temperament In Children

Temperament traits are the foundation on which the child’s personal qualities are established and determines how the child will react and adapt to their environment as well as the other temperaments around them. Nine different traits define a child’s temperament.

Biological Rhythms

A stable biological rhythm ensures that a child is regular in their eating, sleeping and toilet habits. A child with an irregular biological rhythm may experience thirst, hunger and tiredness at random times.


Depending on how much of an introvert or extrovert a child is, determines their affinity to approach or withdraw from new activities. An extrovert child will actively approach and engage in various activities, be it people, situations, or tasks without introduction or instruction. An introvert, on the other hand, may shy away from people and be hesitant to explore and express themselves.

  1. Activity level
  2. This refers to the energy level of the child while performing activities and the type of activities that they prefer doing. Very active children like activities that keep them mentally and physically engaged, while children who are not as active prefer staying in one place and doing intellectual activities.

  3. Intensity of reaction
  4. The sensitivity of a child to stimuli determines how they react to sensory stimuli. Reactions like anger or temper tantrums, extreme happiness, inconsolable crying or anxiety are usually because of high sensitivity to stimuli while children with low sensitivity may not show such extreme reactions.

  5. Persistence
  6. A persistent child can sustain focus on tasks without worrying about the difficulty level, time allowance, task sequence and interruptions. However, a child who isn’t may give up easily or postpone a task they find difficult.

  7. Distractibility
  8. Distractibility determines the child’s persistence with a task. An easily distracted child can get sidetracked by even minor distractions and have difficulty completing a long task. A very attentive child will not be easily distracted and stay focussed for long periods on a task ,even when there are distractors. They have an eye for details and complete a task with dedication.

  9. Sensory Threshold
  10. Sensory threshold refers to the sensitivity level of a child and how they react to stimuli like lighting, noise, touch and pressure. A low sensory threshold is associated with highly sensitive children and they are easily perturbed by minor irritants and physical contact. On the other hand, children with a high sensory threshold are not bothered by noise, physical contact and injuries.

  11. Adaptability
  12. Adaptability refers to how a child is able to adjust to different stimuli. Children who are adaptable can adjust to new people, experiences, routines and environment easily. Children with poor adaptability get upset and frustrated as they prefer routine and predictability.

  13. Mood
  14. A child’s mood, whether it’s cheerful or moody, dictates to a large extent whether they show positive or negative reactions. A cheerful child usually has a positive outlook and is curious while a dull or moody child may have a negative outlook with a lot of doubt towards others, various situations and even themselves.

Strategies for Effective Management of a Difficult Temperament

Studies are indicative that the way a child is parented plays a great role in determining their temperament. A child with authoritarian parents may display characteristics of introversion and social withdrawal, while a child with authoritative parents will be more socially responsive.

  1. Stick to healthy routines
  2. A stable routine that ensures biological rhythms and regulation of tasks makes children more organised. Having a fixed routine helps them learn what is expected from them and they can adapt better to changes.

  3. Be a role model
  4. Good parenting helps the child learn respect, social skills, better communication skills, acceptable emotional expression, adaptability, self-regulation and persistence. Authoritarian or permissive parenting may make a child more difficult.

  5. Use positive parenting
  6. Whether your child is excessively active, moody, hypersensitive or highly reactive, the way a parent talks to a child plays a major role in determining their reactions to a situation. A positive parent can help a child adjust to change and teach them positive ways to verbalise their feelings. Also, a parent who realises how their temperament affects their child can guide them to show socially acceptable behaviour.

  7. Understand your child
  8. Knowledge of their child’s temperament allows a parent to understand their reactivity, triggers and comfort zones. Parents should accordingly adapt their parenting style, disciplining methods and temperament to suit their child.

  9. Accept your child
  10. A harsh parent does more harm than good. It’s wiser to accept your child’s shortcomings,  enhance their strengths and adapt your methods to suit their temperament.

  11. Avoid comparisons
  12. Never compare them to another as it’s perceived as criticism and dislike by a child, shatters their confidence and makes them stubborn or reactive. They may show disobedience and express rebellion.

    Temperament completely determines how a child perceives and reacts in social situations. It’s an important part of the child’s persona and determines how others perceive and respond to them. The three types of temperaments are affected by genetics, parenting styles and other factors but your behaviour as a parent can make all the difference. If you are looking for more information on understanding your child’s temperament, do check out the EuroKids website.

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