The Temperament Corner


Temperament - Parenting Strategies for Children Who Are "Difficult"

by Maxine
Posted August 3 2010 03:17pm
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Interestingly, the traits that are easy for some parents to accept may not be easy for others to accept.

Parents frequently label their children as “difficult” or “easy.”

This is partly subjective, referring to traits that are easy to accept versus those that are not.  Interestingly, the traits that are easy for some parents to accept may not be easy for others to accept.  And gender gets mixed up in this, too.  A highly active boy is sometimes easier for parents to accept than a highly active girl.

But labeling a child as “difficult” or “easy” is also partly objective.  Intense, highly reactive children are much more difficult to parent.  It is really difficult to listen to a child in distress, and anxious children are going to show a lot more distress than easy-going children.

What should you do if your child is difficult to handle? This can occur with any mis-match of a parent’s and a child’s temperament.  For example, it is often difficult for a very focused parent to handle a child who is stimulated by everything, and vice versa – it can be hard for a multi-tasking parent to manage a very focused child. 

There are also children whose emotions run hot all the time. And this is hard for most parents to manage.

There are specific strategies you can use to parent children with high or low levels of the nine temperament traits, which are often the most challenging to parent.  See the Nine Temperament Traits article to learn more about those.

Nonetheless, if you have a child who is difficult for you to handle, try the overarching Positive Parenting strategies below to keep you on an even keel.

For Yourselves:

  • Ask for help from your partner when you need relief.
  • Offer help to your partner, when you see them struggling.
  • Ensure you get some relief.
  • Take some time away from your child, so you can be glad to see him when you return – such as a part-time job or a class.
  • Find other caregivers who like and understand your child, and will give him quality time – such as grandparents, nannies, child care providers, or neighbours.
  • Use the Reflective Parenting Strategies, to help you find fresh strategies when new challenging situations arise. Learn more about Reflective Parenting.
  • Try reframing the most challenging traits of your child to see the positive aspect of these traits.  For example, a highly active child as an adventurous child or a shy child as a calm and cautious child. 

For Your Child

  • Be as patient, encouraging and understanding as you can, knowing that you may have to do more of this with a difficult child than with a child you find easy to parent.
  • Plan ahead.  You can forecast some stressful situations, and take steps to reduce the predictable tension, before it can take hold. 
  • Make some small accommodations to reduce tensions.   
  • Shape your child's behaviour by having him make baby steps toward the behaviour you desire.  In many cases you cannot totally change your child.  Figure out ways to inch your way toward what will work for you both.
  • Learn when to back off.  It is not helpful to push yourself or your child to the point where either of you loses your temper.  When you feel yourself or your child nearing such a crisis, stop and take a break.  If this is happening frequently, ask your child’s doctor for a referral to a mental health or child management clinic. 

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Temperament - A Family Affair

by Maxine
Posted July 30 2010 02:35pm
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What is temperament? Temperament is a combination of 9 emotional building blocks, called “traits” that affect how you respond to life.

These traits are: activity, adaptability, approach, distractibility, intensity, persistence, positivity, regularity, sensitivity.  Each of these traits can appear as either high or low, or something in between. 

Why is temperament important?
Humans are born with the traits.  They appear beginning early in life.  They affect how you, your husband or wife and your children act and relate as individuals and, importantly, with each other

How permanent are the traits?
Traits are biologically-based.  We know traits run in families.  They stay with us over time and we use them in many different situations.

Although traits are biological tendencies, no single gene has been found to cause them, and scientists predict this will never happen.  Genetic tendencies are not simple, but complicated.

These traits are genetically related tendencies, NOT destiny.  They are better at predicting what you will not become, rather than what you will become.  For example, if you are a highly active person, chances are good you won’t become very passive; but in most instances it does not mean you can’t learn to control your tendencies under certain conditions.

These traits appear in different degrees, and some are more dominant than others.  

So why is temperament important in parenting?

Each person in your family has temperament traits.  You have temperament traits.  Your spouse/partner has temperament traits.  Your children have them.  Understanding temperament provides the basis for parents to parent their child more effectively.

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Temperament - Goodness of Fit

by Maxine
Posted July 30 2010 02:43pm
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Goodness of Fit is the match or mismatch of temperament traits between two members of the family.  There are usually three people in a family, and therefore, three temperaments – parent number one's, parent number two's and the child’s.  How these temperaments fit together often explains how easy it is to parent the child as a team.

There are 3 typical Goodness of Fit challenges to parenting as a team:

  • Parent one and child fit together easily, but parent two doesn’t
  • Parent two and child fit together easily, but parent one doesn’t
  • Both parents fit together easily, but their child doesn’t

It is important for parents to know how they rank on the nine temperament traits.  It is often helpful for both parents to complete the Goodness of Fit worksheet separately, and then compare the ratings they gave themselves and each other.

To complete the Goodness of Fit Worksheet, identify the level of traits that you feel you have. Also identify the levels of the traits that your partner has. Have your partner complete their own sheet and then compare your answers.

Download the Goodness of Fit Worksheet (PDF)

Once that is done, it can be beneficial for both parents to complete the Temperament Worksheet for your child, and then examine how the child and the parents fit, or do not fit, together as a family.

Download the Temperament Worksheet (PDF)



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Temperament: Distractibility

by Nancy and Nanci
Posted April 3 2012 05:15pm
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I think most parents would say, without reflecting too much, that they would like their children to be low in distractibility, one of the nine temperament traits.   We can imagine a child listening attentively to teachers – or listening attentively to us! But like all the traits, there are advantages to being high, low or moderate. The benefit or challenge lies in the fit between the temperament profile and the expectations of the environment.

How distractible is your baby?

HIGH distractibility:

  • Your baby stops nursing when there’s a disturbance in the room, like a bouncy sibling.
  • Your baby is easily distracted if he heads for something dangerous. You rattle your keys or shake a rattle and he starts crawling towards you.

LOW distractibility:

  • When your baby heads for danger, you have to move fast and scoop him up. He won’t be distracted by a toy or set of keys (Safety-proofing your home is important for all babies. Away from home, where you can’t alter the environment, be ready to run and scoop your low-distractibility baby.)
  • If your baby is upset, hurt or lonely, she is not distracted by things you do – bouncing her, playing peek a boo, standing on your head. You can only soothe your baby by acknowledging her hurt or loneliness, and ride the emotion with your child.

How distractible is your toddler?

HIGH distractibility:
While all toddlers are busy and have a short attention span, the toddler with high distractibility constantly moves from one activity to another in response to others’ activity. He runs to the window when he hears a siren, he rushes to play with a toy another child has picked up, he hurries to grab the phone when it rings, and he has trouble listening to a story if there’s music being played.

LOW distractibility:
Your toddler is busy but moves purposefully from one area to another rather than responding to outside activities.). He builds a tower of blocks, and then runs to find a truck to knock it down. He returns to the tower and demolishes it. He may repeat this over and over.

How distractible is your school-age child?

HIGH distractibility:
Your child has trouble staying on task. Your child needs a quiet, calm corner for doing homework or completing a project. . In group activities at school, your child may need gentle support to stay focussed – like sitting close to the teacher or other adult.

LOW distractibility:
She often misses social cues from other people. If she’s involved in an activity, she doesn’t hear you when you call her to dinner. You may need to gently “interrupt” your child’s concentration. (Using innate objects like post’m notes, bells or timers may be less irritating to your child than direct parental intrusion!)


Maybe your baby, toddler or child is moderate in distractibility. The moderate zone is generally the least stressful for child and parent! Being moderate means reacting to external cues but being able to focus, as well. The tendency is to see low distractibility as more desirable but in fact, the advantages or disadvantages depend on the environment and the level of child development. A better approach is to moderate the environment, when possible, and provide strategies your child can follow to be successful even when temperament and environment aren’t a good fit.



This article was written by Parents2Parents experts,
Nanci Burns and Nancy Rubenstein
, co-authors of Take Your Temperament!

We all know that every child is unique. The Take Your Temperament! work-book is designed to help you put that reality into action in an engaging and meaningful way. It invites parents and children to explore how they react to the world—and do so without guilt or shame. Find out more at

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