Each child is born with a unique “temperament.” Temperament is the way we approach and respond to the world. Some children warm up quickly in social situations, while others are more cautious. Children can also be persistent or easily agitated, or easy going, jumping right in to explore their world.
Your role as a parent is to support your child’s development by appreciating (and working with) his or her unique temperament.
We are all born with temperamental tendencies and unique ways of responding to the world. Environment—including relationships and interactions with others, home and family life—can also shape a child’s temperament.
Each person’s temperament comes with strengths and challenges. You can help your child grow their strengths, as well as work through their challenges. The first step is to notice and appreciate your child’s unique temperament. Avoid using negative language or labels, such as stubborn, shy, mean, or not nice. The words we use are powerful and shape how children see themselves. Instead, use encouraging words or positive language. For example, if your toddler is feeling nervous about joining a group of peers at a birthday party, instead of saying “Don’t be shy,” you could get down on your child’s level and ask “Are you feeling nervous? It’s OK. I feel that way sometimes too.”
Our job as parents is to accept who our children are and gently guide them as they stretch in new directions. Steady practice is what helps our children grow in the areas of meeting new people, learning to wait or take turns, and focusing attention on one thing at a time—it all takes practice.
Games are a great way to teach new skills. If your child is very active or struggles with being patient, games such as “Simon Says” or “Red Light, Green Light” can help teach your child to think before they act.
Understanding your child’s unique temperament can help you plan activities that are enjoyable for your child, and that match their needs and nurture their growth. When you appreciate and accept your child’s unique temperament, you will feel a deeper connection with your child, as well as more effectively support them as they “stretch” and grow.
This article, which appeared in the August 2020 edition of Oregon Family Magazine, is adapted from Parenting Now’s First Three Years Online Program, which is available for free using the password “Gift” at https://parentingfty.org/.