Temperament describes the way a person approaches and reacts to the world. It influences our behavior and the way we interact with others. It is fixed at birth and driven by both nature(genetic or inherited make-up) and nurture (the influences of the physical and social environment). While temperament does not define or predict behavior clearly it can help you understand how children react and relate to the world around them.
To define types of temperament, researchers looked at a child’s activity level, adaptability to routines, responses to new situations, intensity of reactions, sensitivity to the environment, adaptability to change, and distractibility and persistence when doing an activity. They defined the following three types of temperament – each of which is equally acceptable.
Early childhood educators and families need to accept a child’s temperament, while gently encouraging the child to “step out of his comfort zone.” Although temperament is fixed, an individual’s behavior need not be controlled by temperament. A child or adult who is cautious, as described below, can learn to be open to meeting new people or trying out new situations.
It’s also important for educators and families to view all temperaments as equally worthy and appropriate. The child who is typically calm and easygoing is not “better” than the child who is easily upset by loud noises. Both children were born this way and both children need support to develop emotionally and in other domains.
Being aware of a child’s temperament can increase your understanding of her unique characteristics and how she is likely to react to the people and events in her life. It is not helpful, however, to use it as a label or as a way to definitively predict future behavior. Instead, this information can help early childhood educators provide individualized, supportive interactions. For example, if you know that Jimmy is easily distracted by noise and activity, provide a nook or corner where he can read or work alone. Similarly, if Susie is cautious about entering groups, teach her what she can say or make joining others at play easier: “Can I build with you?” or “This is y favorite puzzle. Would you like to do it with me?” Model how to enter a social situation, such as during dramatic play: “Susie and I would like to join you for tea today. What are you serving?”
These suggestions, adapted from the Center of the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) (Allard and Hunter 2010), can help you individualize support based on types of temperament.
For a child with an easy or flexible temperament:
For a child with an active or feisty temperament:
For a child with a slow to warm or cautious temperament:
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