Kids Connection – Temperament Part 2: Baby, you’re born with it!

Kids Connection Article
Chaffee County Early Childhood Council
Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Temperament Part 2:   Baby, you’re born with it!

This is the second article about temperament.  To see the first article about the nine temperament styles, please go to

What is temperament? Why does it matter?  Everyone is born with a way of interacting and responding to people, places, and situations. Temperament is different than personality, which is a combination of temperament traits and life experiences.  Research on temperament began in the 1950s and led to the  identification of nine temperament styles .Temperament traits guide an individual throughout their life.  Knowing that a child’s behavior is greatly impacted by their temperament versus purely by parenting is key.

The nine temperament traits include activity, rhythmicity/regularity, approach or withdrawal, adaptability, intensity, mood, persistence/attention span, distractibility, and sensory threshold can be narrowed to three basic styles:

Flexible child – Generally calm with regular eating and sleeping habits. They appear to be very content and easy, so parents need to create special times to check in about how the child is feeling and what they are thinking about.  Helping them identify their feelings and needs is important, they may overlook it themselves.

Active Child – This child may be considered fussy with irregular sleeping and eating habits.  He/she may be high energy and intense with reactions.  These children benefit from regular physical activity to channel energy.  They also benefit from having some choices where they can make the final decision and feel more independence.  They need some warning about transitioning – “We will be leaving the park in 5 minutes.”

Cautious Child – This temperament is usually inactive and sensitive. They tend to withdraw from new people and situations and therefore benefit from consistent routines and parents explaining what to expect.  A cautious child needs time to get comfortable in a new place and/or with new people.

No one temperament is better than another.  What is important is to understand your child’s temperament as well as your own.  Understand the strengths so you can build on those characteristics and learn the challenges of your child’s temperament to see how to best interact with your child, especially during difficult moments and discipline.  Helping your child work with his/her temperament makes for easier communication and more joy, as well as greater future success (for you and them).

Temperament traits are apparent within a child’s first year, starting at about 4 months.   Your child may be considered a Flexible Child, if s/he eats quietly and calmly during mealtime and generally eats what is provided.  An Active Child, may be resistant to eating because s/he wants to keep moving.  A Cautious Child may reject food because they have difficulty with the taste and texture of food.

During times of separation, if your child leaves easily, he/she may be Flexible.  A Cautious Child, will be slow to separate from the parent.  When learning something new, The Cautious Child learns by observing, the Flexible child resists distractions and is focused, and the Active Child learns by doing it themselves.  When making friends the Flexible Child is comfortable with other children and plays easily, the Active child tends to control the play and may appear bossy, while the Cautious Child watches before joining in the activity and usually prefers being with just one or two other children.

Most children have several temperament traits so you can see your child sometimes being flexible and sometimes being active.  However, one style is usually dominant.  Knowing this helps parents and caregivers understand how to help children develop and behave in acceptable ways.

Instead of trying to force a different behavior, learn ways to keep your child calm and to work with their temperament to have successful interactions.    Finding your child’s strengths and the unique person they are helps him/her accept who they are.  Enjoy learning who this little person is and what he/she can become.

Resources—perhaps go to our website—we need to make sure we have information they can easily see once they get there—including a link to zero to three.