Can you change a child's temperament?

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Can you change a child's temperament?

Temperaments can change, especially when children are very young. But should a parent try to change their kid?

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Richard Peterson, Contributor Published 5:22 p.m. ET Jan. 9, 2019 | Updated 6:49 p.m. ET Jan. 9, 2019
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"You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and refuse to tell you where they’re going." - P. J. O’Rourke

There are few things more entertaining or interesting than watching a roomful of children. It’s noisy and bustling and offers a lot to learn. Almost from the start, you’ll see some very familiar personality types. There are active ones and quiet ones, happy ones and fussy ones, some who love to show off and others who prefer the sidelines.

It reinforces that every child is an individual, with his or her own unique style when it comes to interacting with the world around them. That unique style is known as temperament.

Characteristics of temperament

Knowing what to look for is important. Behaviorists have long sought to figure out what makes up the recipe for temperament. In general, they’ve landed on at least nine characteristics that affect it. Among them are:

  • Activity Level: The level of physical activity a child displays in their daily activities.
  • Approach and withdrawal: The way the child responds to new stimulus.
  • Adaptability: The degree of ease or difficulty in adapting to a new situation.
  • Intensity: The degree to which a child responds to a situation.
  • Mood: How the child’s mood (positive or negative) is reflected in words and behaviors.
  • Attention span: The ability to concentrate without distraction.
  • Sensory threshold: The amount of stimulation needed to get a response from the child.

Reduce the pace. Speak with your child in an unhurried way, pausing frequently. Wait a few seconds after your child finishes before you begin to speak. Your own easy relaxed speech will be far more effective than any advice such as “slow down” or “try it again slowly. For some children, it is also helpful to introduce a more relaxed pace of life for awhile.

Can you change a child’s temperament?

Temperaments can change, especially when children are very young and still having their first experiences and interactions with people and situations. But by the time they reach school age, their temperaments are fairly well-defined.

Remember that roomful of children from the top of the story? When you look around, you’ll see the differences. Some children take longer to adjust to change. Some handle the hubbub better than others. Watching how a child behaves in various situations helps us understand what makes them tick. And knowing that helps us anticipate their reactions to the situations they encounter throughout the day.

As a parent, your goal should not be to totally change your child’s temperament. They were born that way and it makes them special.

Instead, a parent’s job is to recognize and respect a child’s temperament for what it is and to help them grow and be successful in school. Knowing that helps you become a champion for your child.

A post provided by the Zero to Three organization to the PBS Parents blog suggests a couple of approaches you can use to help others understand and appreciate your child’s temperament. They recommend:

1. Look for opportunities to educate others

If others are having difficulty understanding or dealing with your child — or if they pass judgement — sometimes all it takes is for you to explain to them where and how your child is most at ease.

Keep in mind what grandmoms always say. Children are not yours, they are only lent to you for a time. In those fleeting years, do your best to help them grow up to be good people.

They give an example of a child, Sophie, who doesn't give a visiting aunt the warm reaction she hoped for. In this case, the parent could diffuse the situation by explaining, “Sophie, like a lot of other kids, needs time to adjust to new people,” and then giving the aunt Sophie’s favorite book to allow Sophie to approach her slowly.

2. Change the perspective

Help others see your child’s behavior from a different perspective. If someone criticizes your child as being stubborn, explain that the child is determined and knows what he or she wants. This approach can lead to a more constructive compromise if conflicts arise.

Richard Peterson is the Vice President of Education at Kiddie Academy . He has more than 20 years of experience in early childhood education. Peterson holds a B.S. in Biology from the University of Maryland. He is also a father of four and a grandfather of two.

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Treat media as you would any other environment in your child's life. The same parenting guidelines apply in both real and virtual environments. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Know your children's friends, both online and off. Know what platforms, software, and apps your children are using, what sites they are visiting on the web, and what they are doing online.

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