Understanding your child's temperament

It’s sometimes surprising just how different children from the same family can be. Their personalities, likes, dislikes, and the ways they react to situations can all vary…a lot! These kinds of differences are known as temperaments.

You might pick up on your child’s temperament patterns pretty early on – sometimes from birth. For example, some babies sleep well and seem to have an easy-going nature, while others can be difficult to settle. Some young kids like to explore new places and meet new people; others appear shy and can take a while to get used to new situations.

These kinds of differences in temperament can also mean that your fool-proof parenting strategies that worked so well with one child may not be so great for another.

Temperament makes a difference

Research tells us that some of the main things contributing to kids’ different temperaments are:

  • how strongly children react to people and events, such as getting angry or upset quickly and easily
  • how easily children approach new people or situations
  • how well children can control their attention, emotions and behaviour.

Children who are highly reactive and shy often have difficulty managing fears and worries, and may need some extra help to develop coping skills.

Children who are highly reactive and have trouble managing frustration may show this through impulsive or challenging behaviour. These kids might need some extra support to learn about expressing and managing their emotions. 

How you can help 

Just as you might communicate differently with your boss than you do with your mates, it’s important to adapt your parenting style to match your child’s temperament. This helps to support their social and emotional development as well as building your relationship.

Try giving these suggestions and ideas a go:

  • Observe how your child responds in a range of situations to get a clear picture of how well they manage emotions and what triggers difficult reactions.
  • Find out what it’s like for your child. Talk about your observations and get your child’s input, for example, “You seemed to get really nervous when your friend asked you to come over to play. What was worrying you?”
  • Communicate caring and warmth, such as by showing you understand your child’s point of view. This supports children who feel anxious and reduces negative reactions in children whose behaviour is challenging.
  • For children who are shy: Avoid being overprotective or taking over. Help them develop strategies for managing fears and worries.
  • For children whose behaviour is challenging: Use clear and consistent limit setting rather than harsh punishment. Spell out any consequences in advance and make sure that your discipline strategy is fair and is geared to encouraging appropriate behaviour.
  • Be aware of the similarities and differences between your own temperament and your child’s. Adapting your parenting style to suit your child’s temperament can help to improve relationships and behaviour.
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