Encouraging Independence in Consideration of Temperament


I don’t like it when our plans change, and I’m not good with “going with the flow.” Since I know that it is hard for me to adapt to a change of plans, I know that I need to make an effort to be more flexible. It takes time, as well as a husband who understands that I need more than a minute to deal with things not going as I had expected.


I know that this is part of who I am. It is a part of my temperament. I’m trying to develop skills to be more adaptive. Unlike most children, I can tell Mike that how he responds to me affects my ability to adjust.


One Rule for Many Children

As a parent or an educator caring for multiple children, guidance and responses can become homogenized. Some would say that, for the sake of fairness, the same expectations should apply to everyone.  “In this classroom, we put on our own shoes.”  and  “At 2:30, the lights go on in this classroom and it is time to wake up.” are two examples of the kinds of generalized expectations I’ve heard conveyed to children.


Are there moments when we can respond to who the child is rather than who we think they should be based on age norms?


Not everything decision need be customized. I can’t imagine having four children, each with different biological rhythms and thus each with different bedtimes.  However, in times of fostering skills in children, I try to consider whether or not the timing of my expectations is an appropriate challenge for this child in light of his temperament.



Here’s a brief look at temperament:

Temperament is described in terms of the following nine traits. Each trait should be thought of as being placed along a spectrum. Where does your child fall on the spectrum of each trait? Would a teacher or grandparent say the same things about your child’s temperament?


Activity Level

How physical is your child? Is she wiggly and full of energy, or does she prefer to sit and play?



How does your child respond when other things are happening around him? To what extent does your child pay attention while nursing or playing?



How does your child react to situations or stimuli? When she is happy or sad, for example, does she have a strong excited reaction or a mild way of expressing her emotions?



What is the pattern of your child’s biological rhythms? Does he have a regular rhythm such as going to sleep at the same time every night, or a more irregular pattern?



When your child is in an unfamiliar situation how does she react? Does she join right in, or stand by and retreat if possible?


Sensory Threshold

Does light or noise affect your child? Is he distressed/irritated by noise, or does he not seem to notice?



How does your child respond to changes in her routine – with ease, or does he need time and reminders?



Does your child approach challenges? Does she struggle and see it through, or does she change course when frustrated?



How would you describe your child’s overall mood?




To Foster or Not to Foster?

Encouraging children to do all the things that they are capable of despite struggles is important for developing tenacity, but is best done in consideration of their temperament.


If a child refuses to put on her shoes, is it because it’s difficult and she doesn’t often persist through a challenge, in which case some encouragement and waiting may be helpful.  Or is a child feeling challenged more so  by  a sudden change and less by the physical task of putting on shoes. How does your insight of this child’s temperament change the way you approach her?


Greysen has often been told, and usually in relation to her younger sister, “You are a big girl now, you can …”  Even though I think she can do many things for herself and want her to learn to do more, I also want to be considerate who my daughter is – which, when it comes to tasks, has little to nothing to do with her age as it relates to her sister.


Even though it means I am not always consistent with my expectations, there are occasions in which fostering independence and skill building for simple tasks is put aside.  Who my daughter is becomes the basis for my decision making not who I think she can be.


How does your child’s temperament affect his ability to do things for himself?  How often are your expectations of your child grounded in who they are as a person more than how old they are?


For more Tips on Temperament visit Zero to Three’s site.


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