Toddlers are explosive bundles of personality and energy. One minute they are charming you with their rendition of “Shake It Off.” The next, they are in emotional meltdown mode over their milk being too “milky.” From one minute to the next, you never know what to expect with a toddler. But that’s part of the fun, right?
If you look for certain patterns in your child’s behavior, you can get a good idea of their temperament. Knowing your child’s temperament helps you parent. You’ll be able to help your child deal with their emotions, people and change in healthy ways. You’ll also learn to avoid situations that might cause frustration for both of you.
How your toddler adjusts to his or her environment is influenced by their temperament, which generally includes:
- Emotions: Some toddlers are very easy going; others will have big feelings over just about everything.
- Change: Managing change is something many toddlers can be challenged by, but there is a range of reactions in dealing with change. Some kids move easily from one activity to the next, while others struggle with the transition. Both reactions are normal, but knowing these trends can help you predict your child’s reaction to situations.
- Energy level: Toddlers can have vastly different energy levels. Does your toddler play and chat all day at daycare? Your child may have lots of energy in the morning, but little in the evening. Are they fidgety and always on the go?
- People: Some toddlers love to be around people all the time, while others are slow to warm or need quiet time away from groups of people.
- Patience: Is your child happily able to wait for you make another pancake? Does he get extremely frustrated with the blue shirt when the red shirt is in the wash? Each child has different expressions of patience or frustration.
Temperament Isn’t Everything
Temperament greatly affects your toddler, but it is changeable/malleable when it gets in their way. For example, if your child is “naturally” cautious in new situations, there are ways to help them have more confidence and feel safe. You can, for example:
- Stay close and hold their hand or have them sit on your lap.
- Have them bring a favorite stuffed animal or toy to hold.
- Don’t force your child if they are extremely anxious. Negative experiences can make it harder in the future.
We call this the warm shallow water approach. Once your child has some positive experiences, they can start to feel more confident, even if it’s not their natural temperament.
Perfect Children, Perfect Parents, Perfectly Impossible
There is no right or wrong temperament and there is no perfect parenting technique that can radically change your child’s fundamental way of being.
Of course, certain temperaments may be more challenging and some temperaments may be more or less challenging at different times and at different ages.
You may also struggle if your child’s temperament is very different or similar to your own.
- If your child is slow to warm, but you thrive on being around big groups, it might be hard to understand what your child needs.
- If you are very slow to warm, it may be hard to help your child overcome their fear of large groups. Her shyness might also bring up painful memories from experiences you had as a child.
Understanding the challenges will help you find ways to guide your child. And even challenging traits can have a joyful side. The intensity of your child’s emotions may feel tiring at times, but at other times those big long laughs will bring a smile to your face.
One of our tasks as parents is to support our kids to learn to regulate their emotions. Name feelings for your child and validate them. This is the first step in self-regulation. “You’re feeling sad about leaving the park, because you want to play some more. I see how much fun you’re having. And it’s time to go pick up your sister from school now. We’ll come back tomorrow.” This practice also helps you get on your child’s side and see the world from their perspective. This is especially helpful when you and your child’s temperaments are vastly different.
Encourage Your Child To Be Who They Are
Knowing your child’s temperament, and your own, can help you be a better parent. You can’t change their basic temperament, but you can give your child support for who they are, provide positive experiences and help them learn to manage and enjoy the world around them. For example:
- Give your toddler 5-minute, 2-minute, and 1-minute warnings when it is time to transition an activity. Follow through with the transition.
- If your child is more of a “watcher” than active-oriented, incorporate movement into activities they already love, such as piecing together puzzles.
- For toddlers always on the go, provide safe places for them to explore and get their wiggles out. Don’t expect that they will sit still for long. A little outside time every day goes a long way.
- If your child is slow to warm up to people, schedule playdates at your home with just one or two other friends rather than a large group.
- Be there to help your child settle into a new situation. If preschool drop off is challenging, read a book together or help your toddler find something to play with at school.
- If your child is slow to warm up to people, invite the caregiver or friend to play something that you know your child enjoys. This can help to ease the transition. Give a one minute warning, say goodbye and then go.
- Create a special goodbye ritual with your child. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn is a wonderful example.
- Look for opportunities to build up your child’s self-esteem and confidence.
- Give your toddler a heads up when it comes to changes to their routine, such as a visitor coming over or when they will stay with a babysitter.
And if you find yourself challenged, connect with other families. Share this post on Facebook and ask other parents about their children’s temperaments. You can support each other and learn together to enjoy exactly who your children are.
For more articles on child development, visit lanekids.org.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).