What is temperament? And how does it help us become better parents?

By understanding your child's temperament, you are able to approach parenting situations with a new lens of knowledge.

What is temperament? And how does it help us become better parents?

In one of my child development classes, I remember watching a video of a classic psychological experiment that focused on the temperament of babies. The video showed a series of babies about 9 months old sitting in a high chair with a toy in front of them. The only thing unusual about the scenario was that the toy was behind a plexiglass barrier so the babies could see the toy but not reach it or actually touch it.

Consider how your baby would react. Would they be the sort to grunt, cry and push their little body into every possible position in an attempt to reach that toy? Or would your baby take the more laid-back approach—simply leaning back in their chair and playing with their hands, instead?

You can see now why this simple experiment is a very informative assessment of temperament. While it only considers some aspects of temperament (persistence, reactivity), it clearly illustrates how each child's temperament varies from an early age and how they can respond so differently to the same situation.

What is temperament?

Child psychologists have been studying temperament for years and while there is always more to know, they have discovered nine main components. It's helpful to have a basic concept of these elements and consider how your child's temperament relates to each.

  1. Activity level: Energy level of the child
  2. Approach-withdrawl: How child initially responds to a new setting
  3. Mood: The child's general tendency to be happy or unhappy
  4. Rhythmicity: How regular are the child's physical/biological patterns (e.g., eating, sleeping)
  5. Persistence/attention span: A child's ability to stay with a difficult task
  6. Adaptability: Their ability to adjust to changes in routine
  7. Threshold: A child's ability to handle external stimuli (e.g., loud noises)
  8. Intensity: Their tendency to emotionally react strongly or less strongly to events
  9. Distractibility: The degree to which a child is easily distracted from a task or activity

With all these temperamental characteristics, it's important to remember that there is no "right" or "wrong" temperament. Temperament is thought to be at least partially genetic but also influenced by the environment in which the child is raised. Therefore, although your child may have some general temperamental qualities, it is possible they may change somewhat as they grow and experience their own unique environment.

Taking all these characteristics into account, you can start to get a general idea of your child's temperament. Although researchers have typically used these characteristics to classify children into "easy," "difficult," or "slow to warm up" categories, I tend to think that these categories oversimplify the situation. Humans are complex creatures and categories like these, while helpful for research, don't really tell us much that can inform our parenting.

Instead, I think it's helpful to look at the whole array of temperamental traits your child exhibits. Each child is so unique and some of this uniqueness can be captured through the combinations of temperamental characteristics.

For example, maybe your child is sensitive to stimulation, such as loud noises, but also very extroverted and loves social interaction. Or maybe your child is wary of new situations but also very persistent in tasks or activities. It's enlightening to see how your unique child approaches and interacts with the world.

Why temperament is so important

By understanding your child's temperament, you are able to approach parenting situations with a new lens of knowledge. These are just a few ways this knowledge can help you:

  • It helps you anticipate their behavior. When you see how your child approaches the world, you can foresee situations that might be easier or more difficult for them. For example, if your child is sensitive and reactive to stimulation, you may be able to predict that a noisy amusement park or play area may cause difficulty for them. Knowing this, you can either avoid certain situations or discover coping strategies in advance that might help your child handle the situation better.
  • It helps you respond with empathy. Your child's temperament will guide you in decoding their behavior and responding in a more mindful way. If your child just finished a play date with a friend and now is asking to go to another activity, knowing your child's temperament is extroverted and high-energy, you can understand that their physiological need for social interaction is probably what is fueling this. Given this, you can respond to that need, instead of chastising them for being ungrateful. Now, this doesn't mean they get their way every time, but it does help you respond from a place of empathy, rather than resentment. In most cases, this type of response goes a long way to helping stay connected to your child and building a bond of trust.
  • It helps you understand your own parenting reactions better. Looking through this new lens can help you determine why you react the way you do too. Do you and your child have similar or different temperaments? Just understanding this can help guide you in reflecting on your own behavior in relation to your little one. If you know that you are more extroverted and social but your child is more introverted, this might help you see why you react strongly to them when they don't want to try new things. We inherently respond to a situation based on how we feel or the need we have, but if we know how our child approaches the world, we can see the situation from their perspective.

Overall, approaching your parenting role through the lens of temperament puts you in a responsive state of mind. Approaching behavior and parenting from this perspective also puts your focus on your child's needs and unique characteristics. This perspective almost always leads to empathy, which fosters a deeper connection with our kids

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These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

1. Go apple picking.

Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

4. Have a touch-football game.

Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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