Goodness of Fit: Temperament


Most people who care for children know that each child reacts differently to situations and each child has different strengths and weaknesses. Understanding the differences between children can be very helpful in guiding parents to manage their children. The information below talks about the differences in temperament between children. We begin with a discussion of temperament because each child is unique and that uniqueness must be understood and accepted.

What is Temperament?

Temperament is the differences between people in the way they behave and express their feelings. Temperament is present at birth and differences in temperament can be seen between children very early in life.

There are two popular ideas about the things that influence a child’s behavior. Some people think that a person’s genes influence temperament and the way people react. Other people think that it is the way a person has been raised that explains all of behavior. Neither one of these ideas are true.
Genes and temperament do not completely explain our behavior. Parents, teachers, friends, relatives and situations that happen to us also explain why we behave the way we do. Temperament is one of the important influences on our behavior. Parents, teachers, friends, relatives and things that happen to us influence our temperament and also explain some the reasons why we behave as we do.

Temperament Traits/Dimensions

Researchers talk about temperament in different ways. Many researchers believe that there are five basic temperaments that help to explain our behavior. We will first name the temperament and then explain what the temperament label means and how it might affect a person’s behavior.

  • This temperament trait refers to the speed, intensity and first reaction (sadness, anger, fear) a child might have when things are not going their way or when they are in a new situation.
  • A child with high level of negative emotionality tends to react very negatively when things are difficult or new or when they dislike something about the situation.
  • A child that is low in negative emotionality tend to be less intense in their reactions and show more positive emotions when they are in new situations.
  • This temperament trait refers to how a child reacts to new experiences and meeting new people.
  • A child with high extraversion/surgency likes new experiences and likes to meet new people.
  • A child low on this trait tends to shy away from situations and people who are new.
  • This temperament trait refers to how friendly and how much a child likes to be around other people.
  • A child high on sociability will readily approach other children and adults and try to interact with them.
  • A child low on this trait is extremely shy and tends to get very stressed when in the presence of people they don’t know.
  • This temperament trait refers to how physically active a child is.
  • A child high on this trait has to be moving all of the time and a child low on this trait can sit for a long period of time.
  • This temperament trait refers to the child’s ability to control emotions, attention and frustration.
  • A child high on this trait can pay attention for a long time and is not easily frustrated when things don’t go his/her way.
  • When they do get upset or excited, their reactions are reasonable, not extreme.
  • A child low on this trait tends to act without thinking and they have a very hard time staying focused on tasks.
  • They tend to over react emotionally and they are easily frustrated.

Temperament Styles

All of the traits that we talked about combine to form what the expert call temperament styles. These temperament styles are what parents, teachers and other adults see in a child each and every day and influence how we react to the child. These same styles can be used to describe the adults in a child’s life. Let’s now look at the styles:

  • These children and adults are in the middle on all of the levels of the temperament traits described above.
  • Sometimes, the child or adult can show extremes in one or more of the traits at different times of their life.
  • These children and adults show low levels of energy; they tend to be even tempered and are able to control both their attention and emotions.
  • They vary on the sociability scale.
  • These children and adults have high energy, are very emotional and have difficulties controlling their emotions and frustrations.
  • They can be either very shy or outgoing and they can either like new things and situations or have trouble with new situations and trying new things
  • These children and adults love to try new things and tend to be very social.
  • They are able to control their emotions and generally have very long attention spans.
  • They vary on activity level—some are very active, others not so much.
  • These children and adults tend to worry a lot and not like to try new things or situations.
  • They have trouble controlling their emotions and sometimes have trouble focusing because they worry and are anxious.
  • Some of them are outgoing and may be active physically and some are shy and less physically active.